By taking on his uncle Shivpal, has Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav signaled his intents to free himself of family encumbrances? Is he attempting to reinvent socialist politics in the Hindi heartland? Or is it all shadow boxing?
Whatever the case, this much is clear: Among heirs of regional political groups, Akhilesh is the only one who is venturing into an unchartered political territory.
Sons and daughters – heirs of regional satraps who built influential empires for decades – have mostly been content with the status quo.
While the legacy question is settled in Akhilesh’s case, the succession issue remains caught up in sibling rivalries in other parties (Read below).
Succession struggles in regional parties
Akhilesh has attempted to carve out an image as a “modern socialist” - at variance from the traditional old-school subaltern agenda promoted by his father, Mulayam. In the run up to the 2012 assembly elections, the promise of distribution of laptops to the youth was included in the Samajwadi Party (SP) manifesto at Akhilesh’s insistence. The SP’s traditional abhorrence to English education has also lost its sharpness in the four-and-a-half years of Akhilesh at the helm in Lucknow. The chief minister has also been convening big investor conclaves in Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow.
“In order to remain relevant, socialist politics needs to be re-invented in order to establish a link with the aspirations of the Gen-Next. Among his family members, Akhilesh is the one who understands this best”, said a veteran SP watcher.
Before the SP’s family feud erupted in the open, Akhilesh had been disparagingly referred to as “Chief Minister No.5” – after Mulayam Singh, Ram Gopal, Shivpal and Azam Khan”. In the last four-and-a-half years, the SP has been pulled in different directions by Akhilesh’s family members or associates of the SP patriarch. Ahead of next year’s elections, Akhilesh has provided himself with an opportunity to break out of the cocoon.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)
At 92, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi is hardly a man at peace with himself. Although he has made known his preference for M K Stalin as his political heir, his other son, M K Alagiri, hasn’t given up. Karunanidhi suspended Alagiri for “anti-party activities” in the run up to this year’s assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, but could not find the courage to project Stalin as the Chief Ministerial candidate. Working out a temporary truce between his two sons, he declared that he would remain the party’s chief ministerial candidate while he is alive. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi also harbors political ambitions AND is seen as a “Stalin supporter”. DMK cadres are divided between factions owing allegiance to either of Karunanidhi son. Observers say that the succession could swing either way after Karunanidhi’s death.
Telegu Desam Party
N Chandrababu Naidu emerged victorious from the struggle that followed TDP founder N T Rama Rao’s death by overcoming the challenge from NTR’s death. He overcame the challenge from the TDP founder’s widow, Lakshmi Parvathi, but remains under threat from the party founder’s other relatives. N Balakrishna – one of NTR’s sons – has threatened to revive the legacy question. Naidu also regards NTR’s daughter, Dr. Daggubati Purandeshwari – a minister in the UPA government who joined the BJP - as a potential threat. It is said that the BJP has not accorded an important role to Dr. Purandeshwari on account of pressure from Naidu.
Janata Dal (Secular)
Party patriarch H D Deve Gowda has been balancing between his two sons – H D Kumaraswamy and H D Revanna. In order to pre-empt the eruption of an open family war, he declared that he will remain the party’s supreme leader.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)
Party supremo Lalu Prasad’s two sons – Tejaswi and Tej Pratap - are in conflict. Prasad’s daughter Misa Bharti is also a claimant to Prasad’s legacy. Tejaswi has the upper hand, having been nominated the deputy chief minister in the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar.
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha
The family of three-time chief minister Shibu Soren has fought for his legacy. Elder son Durga Soren, a former MLA, died in 2009 under mysterious circumstances. His wife, Sita Soren, had a bitter struggle with Shibu and his two other sons – Hemant and Basant Soren. She is an MLA of the JMM. Hemant became chief minister and holds sway over the party. Shibu publicly criticized him on many occasions. Basant is a party office bearer and unsuccessfully sought entry into Rajya Sabha.
Self-styled Hindu leader Bal Thackeray founded the party in 1966. He ran the party with the help of son Uddhav and nephew Raj. As the party expanded, Raj emerged as a more charismatic leader. But Sena chief appointed his son Uddhav as the party leader in 2005. A year later, Raj bitterly went on to set up his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Uddhav’s took over as chief of youth wing of the party. Bal Thackeray died in 2012. Efforts began to re-unite the estranged cousins.
Telangana Rashtra Samiti
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s son KT Rama Rao is a powerful minister in the state Cabinet. The CM’s daughter K Kavitha is a member of the Lok Sabha. For now the succession issue seems settled with the son emerging as KCR’s heir.
(Inputs by Kumar Uttam)