Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s supporters are protesting noisily outside but inside his Vikramaditya Marg home, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav appears unflustered by an ongoing family feud that threatens to jeopardise his party’s chances of winning the state polls next year.
An attendant hands him a letter sent by his younger brother Shivpal Yadav. He reads it before putting it carefully in his pocket.
Before settling down for the interview, he sends a stern message to the demonstrators to go back to the party office, where he might drive down and meet them.
Before taking questions he says, “Why should they take to the streets and engage in slogan shouting, they can always talk to me if they have an issue.”
In an exclusive interview to HT, the 76-year-old politician talks about the trouble in his party triggered by a rivalry between son Akhilesh and brother Shivpal, succession plans and his long-time “friend” and Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh. Edited excerpts:
Q. Are you disturbed by the developments in the party and family?
A. I had a nice sleep and I am relaxed. I have seen and struggled so much during my long political career that I don’t get tense any more.
Q . Who is number two in your party?
A. Prof Ram Gopal Yadav (he calls him Ram Pal or Professor). He is a Rajya Sabha member and the national general secretary of the Samajwadi Party. (In between, Shivpal walks into the room, gives him a list, possibly of supporters agitating outside his residence. He again reads it, says there should be discipline in the party. No visible signs of tension)
Q. Do you have a succession plan like the Congress, in which the rank and file knows Rahul Gandhi will inherit Sonia Gandhi’s mantle?
A. We are a democratic party and in a democracy, it is the party that decides. I am not old, I am healthy. In fact, my official age is four years more than my actual age. When I was young, I wanted an age correction but eventually decided against it.
This is not the time to draw a succession plan or announce my heir. I will be actively campaigning in the forthcoming elections. Even when we were not in power, I campaigned intensively and won seats for the party.
Q. You said yesterday that the party will not split till you were around. What after that?
A. Again it will be for the party to decide. Mujhe kya pata, kal jab hum nahin honge to kya hoga(How will I know what will happen when I am not there).
Q. But don’t you think the party has suffered because of the battle for supremacy?
A. Such upheavals happen in every political party and family. I am sure the party will gain when Shivpal will campaign as state president and Akhilesh as chief minister. It will send a good message. They will work together under my guidance. Where is the problem when Akhilesh is chief minister! Neither will ever defy me.
Q. But the tussle is over ticket distribution for the upcoming assembly elections?
A: We have a democratic set up. Prof Ram Gopal worked very hard and interviewed 4,200 candidates a few months ago. He prepared a list and sent it to me for approval. I made a few changes and sent it back. If Akhilesh or Shivpal has any suggestion or opinion, it will be accommodated. I must say Ram Gopal is very impartial and I take his opinion in every matter.
Q. Had He signed the letter removing Akhilesh as party president?
A: Yes, he did, in consultation with me. I consult him on all important matters.
Q. People say Amar Singh is another divisive issue in your party...
A. There are two people who have supported me in my every hour of crisis. One is Amar Singh, who has always stood by me in my difficult hours.
The other is the late Janeshwar Mishra, who strongly defended me in the Rajya Sabha and questioned then prime minister Manmohan Singh for ordering a CBI probe against me. Mishra told the prime minister that Singh should have asked him before ordering a probe. What happened? They could not find any evidence.
Q. What about Lok Sabha where Prof Ram Gopal was then a member?
A. No, never the issue was raised by anyone in the Lok Sabha. In fact no senior party leader has ever shared my pain or supported me when CBI was probing the case. They found no evidence.
Q. Coming to the elections, who will be your main competitor?
A. The Bharatiya Janata Party and not the Bahujan Samaj Party.