Akhilesh Yadav may have been Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister for close to five years but he emerged as a political leader in his own right last weekend. The immediate trigger for the rift with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav were differences between the two over selection of candidates ahead of the assembly elections.
When Akhilesh decided to issue his own parallel list, the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief expelled him, only to retreat the following day and revoke it. But by then, it was too late. Akhilesh’s supporters convened a party meeting - against Mulayam’s instructions; crowned him national president; kicked the father up to make him a guide; sacked uncle Shivpal Yadav as state president; and expelled Amar Singh from the party. Later in the day, Mulayam called the national executive meeting as unconstitutional and expelled Ram Gopal Yadav for six years from the party.
The contest over which one is the legitimate SP, who bags the party symbol and who manages to wrest the organisation’s assets may continue for some time to come. But what is clear is that there is a surge of support for Akhilesh, the majority of the party’s MLAs are with him, and that he represents a brand of politics - modern and development-oriented - that appeals to the state’s younger demographic across castes and religion.
And that is why it is intriguing why a shrewd leader like Mulayam Singh could not read the signs, and committed to a path, which many see as politically suicidal. The veteran politician was unable to reconcile to changing times, to the fact that his politics may have given identity and power to OBCs but the same groups were now looking for tangible development. Mulayam’s insecurities were stoked by his brother and associates, who are jealous of Akhilesh’s rise and desperate to get a large share of the party and its finances. At the core, the father was not able to accept the inevitable generational transformation.
But that does not mean it is all smooth for Akhilesh in the forthcoming elections. He would run a presidential-style campaign, but there is a danger of fragmentation of SP core vote of Yadavs and Muslims. To make up for it, it is likely Akhilesh will ally with the Congress.
But both the BJP and the BSP will seek to exploit the rift as well. BJP president Amit Shah hopes the Muslim vote will get divided, while BSP chief Mayawati hopes given the mess in SP, minorities will consolidate behind her.
But while UP’s politics is wide open for now, what is clear is that a new leader has emerged. Akhilesh Yadav - the first Yadav leader in north India who is not seen as just his caste leader - is here to stay for a long time to come.