Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle Shivpal traded angry barbs in public on Saturday as the family feud in Uttar Pradesh’s ruling family marred the 25th year celebrations of the Samajwadi Party.
Former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad had to intervene to try and pacify Akhilesh and Shivpal, both of whom dropped the bonhomie they had displayed moments earlier to tear into each other.
Amid the angry exchanges, there was no decision on the grand alliance the SP is pushing for with other non-BJP parties, although several erstwhile Janata Parivaar leaders did attend the function as a mark of solidarity. BSP chief Mayawati, however, mocked the alliance attempt at a press conference in Delhi in the evening.
She said the move was a reflection of the SP “already accepting defeat” before next year’s assembly polls.
Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda also batted for a third front under SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav for the 2019 general elections. Mulayam, however, did not speak on the issue.
But before Mulayam’s address, the spotlight was firmly on Shivpal’s tirade and Akhilesh’s response.
“How much more will you humiliate me?...Sack me, insult me but I have also struggled and done a good job in the departments that were given to me,” Shivpal said in front of thousands of shocked supporters who had trooped into the sprawling Janeshwar Mishra Park for the silver jubilee celebrations.
“I do not want to be CM. I am willing to make any number of sacrifices but I will not tolerate those who insult ‘netaji’ (Mulayam Singh Yadav),” he said, apparently referring to several youth leaders who had protested Akhilesh’s removal as the SP’s state president by the party patriarch. The youth leaders close to Akhilesh were later expelled by Shivpal.
It had led to several tit-for-tat sackings by Akhilesh and Shivpal, deepening the crisis in the party. The party was hoping to send out a message that all was well in the party and family during the celebrations. And before Shivpal spoke, Akhilesh had touched his and Mulayam’s feet, drawing raucous cheers from party workers.
But when his turn to speak came, Akhilesh hit back without naming his uncle.
“Kuch log sunege to zaroor, magar sab bigar jaane ke baad (Some people would make amends but then the damage would have been done)…Lohiaji (Ram Manohar Lohia) said he would be heard but only after his death. Same way, some people would never understand,” the chief minister said.
“I do not want anyone to prove his credentials. I am also prepared for any test but I do not want to reply to all the issues that have been raised here.”
The war of words between the warring ‘chacha-bhatija’ came two days after an apparent show of unity by Mulayam, Shivpal and Akhilesh at the flagging-off of Akhilesh’s statewide yatra.
“You have given me a sword but no authority to use it,” Akhilesh said, referring to a rapier presented by Gayatri Prasad Prajapati, who he had sacked over graft allegations but later reinducted on Mulayam’s insistence.
Mulayam, who spoke last, skirted the family feud but did ask his chief minister-son to pay heed to what senior leaders have said.
He thanked leaders of the RJD, RLD and JD (U) leaders for attending the event but did not clear the air on the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
MP Amar Singh, whose inclusion in the SP was protested by Akhilesh, did not attend the event.
Lalu Prasad gave the finishing touches with his rustic humour. “Journalists ask me about the fight in the Samajwadi family. I told them that since nobody can fight us we fight among ourselves,” he said.
(With agency inputs)