Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav expanded his cabinet on Monday morning after intense drama with an eye on the assembly polls next year but the growing rift in the family took centre-stage.
The cabinet reshuffle was preceded by the merger and subsequent de-merger of the Qaumi Ekta Dal -- founded by jailed don Mukhtar Ansari -- with the Samajwadi Party, a development that indicated not all was well in the Yadav family.
Despite the presence of Mulayam Singh Yadav, cousin Ram Gopal Yadav and close associate Amar Singh, the absence of Akhilesh’s uncle Shivpal Yadav was conspicuous at the swearing.
Mulayam had given a miss to some of the seven cabinet expansions so far but Shivpal was a regular at all important government and party events.
Akhilesh had retaliated to the merger with the sacking of cabinet minister Balram Yadav, who quietly aided in the negotiations with the QED. Some reports even indicated chief minister’s threat to quit if the decision, which Shivpal claimed had the stamp of Mulayam, was not revoked.
The merger was aimed at wooing Muslims in four eastern UP districts as the QED has considerable clout in Varanasi and adjoining areas though it won only two seats in the last assembly polls.
But Akhilesh, struggling with the ‘goonda raj’ tag of the party, did not want any relation with the QED as he plans to contest the 2017 polls on his development agenda.
Perhaps he knew the BJP will go hammer and tongs against any association with Mukhtar Ansari, an accused in the 2005 murder of BJP legislator Krishnand Rai.
He was not wrong; BJP president Amit Shah criticised the QED issue at a party rally in Barabanki on Monday, calling the merger and de-merger ‘shadow boxing between the uncle and his nephew’. The state is run by three and a half CMs, he said.
The BJP plans to target Akhilesh over his uncle’s control over the government and the poor law and order situation. But the CM wants to blunt this attack by pitching the development agenda in comparison to work done by the Centre.
Rajesh Singh, a political expert from Gorakhpur, said Akhilesh’s assertiveness sent a positive message. While insisting the Bahujan Samaj Party remains a frontrunner, he said the SP will enter the political arena on the strength of Mulayam’s naam (name) and Akhilesh’s kaam (work). But Singh thought Mulayam would placate his brother Shivpal.
“I am the election in charge for the state and he (Akhilesh) the state president. We will work in coordination,” Shivpal later said but the message between the lines was clear: The friction is likely to spill over into ticket distribution as well as electoral alliances, if any.
This is not the first time the CM asserted his strength in his own silent way, nor does it seem to be the last with approaching elections.
Earlier, Akhilesh sent strong signals by dropping Raghuraj Pratap Singh after his name figured in killing of Kunda deputy inspector of police Zia ul Haq. Singh was reinstated after he was cleared.
Akhilesh skipped the inaugural function of the Saifai Mahotsava after two of his lieutenants were sacked. They had to be reinstated. But the coming days will pose bigger challenges.
All eyes are on the appointment of the new chief secretary with the extended tenure of incumbent Alok Ranjan ending on June 30. Of the two frontrunners, one is considered close to Akhilesh and the other to Shivpal and Amar Singh.
The CM has increasingly had his way in the appointments of top bureaucratic positions but it will be interesting to see whose writ runs large in the last leg of this government.