For Akhilesh Yadav, the young, rebellious scion of Uttar Pradesh’s famous Yadav clan, his father and Samajwadi party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has drawn a red line: no undercutting his brother Shivpal Yadav and his brother-in-arms Amar Singh.
But the UP chief minister, an obedient son until recently, is in no mood to relent — not on his decision to sack Shivpal from his Cabinet or on his demand to have a say in the selection of party candidates in the next assembly elections. He has been unsparing in his criticism of the two ‘chachas’ on party fora. On Tuesday when Mulayam declared unity in the family and the party — “hamara parivar ek hai, hamari party ek hai” — at a press conference, the CM chose to watch it on TV from his residence a few metres away.
Akhilesh has denied reports about the possibility of breaking away from the SP. If Mulayam Singh decides to act tough against the CM, it’s anybody’s guess how long it would take the crowds of his slogan-shouting young supporters -- thronging the party office everyday -- to disperse.
But Akhilesh, like a gladiator, looks prepared to a fight to the finish. He is seeking to control the two parallel narratives that define the current crisis in the party.
The first one is the intra-family tussle for Mulayam’s political legacy. Political ambitions of Akhilesh’s half-brother Prateek Yadav and his wife Aparna Yadav are no secret in party circles. They have been quietly watching Akhilesh’s rise since his emergence as the party’s face in 2012 assembly elections. Prateek is the son of Mulayam’s second wife Sadhna Gupta.
As Shivpal and Amar Singh take on Akhilesh, insinuations about the role of the CM’s step-mother’s family are part of many conspiracy theories floating in the party. “Sadhna theek hai pad kuchh mahine se kuch jyada gussa kadati hai (Sadhna is well but has been edgy for the past few months),” the SP chief told a journalist recently.
The second narrative is what many believe is an expected corollary to generational transition — from a brand of politics based on feudal, clannish loyalty to one driven by relatively identity-neutral programmatic action. Posters and hoardings outside the SP’s Vikramaditya Marg headquarters in Lucknow underscore this. On the right side of the main gate are small hoardings with Akhilesh’s pictures, showcasing Lucknow-Agra Expressway, Lucknow Metro, Mahila Helpline, Ambulance Service and Swarojgar Yojana. On the left side is a big hoarding, saying “Shivpal chacha tum sangharsh karo, hum aapke saath hain”.
“People who are uncomfortable with this change are those who are not able to understand or digest this transition,” said legislator Sunil Yadav, the chief minister’s close aide who was expelled from the party after Shivpal took over as the state party chief last month. The current crisis in the SP is not all about cha-chas and bhatija. It’s also about a tussle between a father who puts a premium on loyalties — of individuals, castes and communities — and a son who might not be averse to it but who wants to brand it anew by imparting dosages of identity-neutral, aspirational politics to it.
“I think Amar Singh is taking revenge for his insult,” Sunil Yadav told Hindustan Times, in an apparent reference to Singh’s expulsion from the SP in 2010 for, among other reasons, the loss of Akhilesh’s wife Dimple in Firozabad Lok Sabha bypoll. Mulayam Singh nominated him to the Rajya Sabha last May.
“Akhilesh has emerged as a gainer out of this. Even after mike-snatching (by Shivpal at Monday’s meeting) and humiliation (by Mulayam’s barbs), he has remained patient. People see him getting down from his car to buy grocery. These things have endeared him to them. There is more sympathy with him,” the CM’s biographer Frank Huzur told HT.
Some time back, asked about how his son was doing, Mulayam Singh told a union minister in Parliament: “Mehanati hai lekin rajniti mein chatur hona padta hai (he is hard-working but has to be cunning in politics).” Akhilesh might have proven him wrong. He refused to react to his father’s public jibes at him. He let his father’s confidante, Principal Secretary Anita Singh, run the chief minister’s office and lived with Cabinet colleagues-- not exactly the paragons of virtues-- for four-and-a-half years. Then he struck barely four months ahead of elections, a rebellion that many of his admirers believe would shift the focus away from law and order issues to his ‘crusade’ against the corrupt and the scheming.
For once, Mulayam seems to be at his wit’s end.