The 96-hour political drama that kept India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh on tenterhooks might have come to an end for now. But whatever was witnessed over the past four days has shown that the Samajwadi Party is all about a party of the family, by the family and for the family – that could turn Abraham Lincoln in his grave.
Evidently, what the party witnessed was akin to any battle of succession in feudal families of yesteryears. The tussle for succession was imminent in the family-run ruling political organisation.
Party and family patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, who built SP from scratch in the late Eighties, would never tire of claiming that he and his party firmly believe in the ideals and philosophy propagated by socialist stalwarts like Ram Manohar Lohia and practice the pro-farmer policies of Chaudhary Charan Singh.
But the goings-on in the party, particularly over the weekend, have only displayed a blatant mockery of these ideologues.
The fissures in the family had become visible on the very day, March 15, 2012, Mulayam Singh Yadav anointed son Akhilesh as chief minister of UP. Everyone considered it as a reward to the son whose spotless innocent face had taken the SP to an unprecedented tally of 224 seats in the 403-member UP assembly – something that even the seasoned father could never attain.
Akhilesh’s educational background as well as his progressive talk and meaningful declarations lent hope that here was a young leader ready to give a makeover to the rustic SP. The youth of the state rallied behind him in huge numbers.
Even as the then 38-year-old was being hailed as the youngest UP CM, the father had another reason to smile – he had fulfilled his long awaited dream of setting the line of succession for the son.
No matter how much he cared for and admired his younger brother Shivpal as a “grassroots Samajwadi leader”, Mulayam continued to have a soft corner for the political novice son, to whom he clearly wanted to pass on his political legacy.
Shivpal did register his dissent by propagating that he wanted "Netaji" (Mulayam) alone to don the mantle of CM once again. But ill-health and onset of degenerative ailments prompted the shrewd Netaji to concentrate on charting a smooth course for succession by his son while he was still around.
As a quid pro quo, Shivpal was allowed to handpick multiple portfolios of his choice, each regarded as a virtual “gold mine” over which he enjoyed absolute control like a private fiefdom.
Akhilesh’s other chacha, Ram Gopal Yadav (Mulayam’s first cousin), better known as the party’s thinktank, had always pushed for the nephew. Ram Gopal became Akhilesh’s friend, philosopher and guide.
In the bargain, he charted his own political roadmap to remain an important power centre in the family, which stood divided - Shivpal backed by Mulayam’s second wife Sadhana, son Prateek and his ambitious wife Aparna on one side, and Akhilesh backed by Ram Gopal on the other.
While Shivpal ruled the roost in the multiple ministries under him, his say in other affairs of governance got minimised over the past four-and-a-half years. Every time Shivpal had a grouse against the nephew, he would use the shoulder of the elder brother.
Mulayam, who chose to do back-seat driving for Akhilesh, also played a balancing act between his son and brother. But more often than not, it was the son at the receiving end as Mulayam would not hesitate to ridicule him in public.
Such reprimands by the father were seen as placating Shivpal. The dominance of father, uncles and some others led critics to term Akhilesh as the “half” among “five–and-a-half chief ministers” that UP was jokingly stated to have.
Akhilesh displayed the first signs of assertion two months ago, when he shot down Shivpal's plan for merger of mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s Qaumi Ekta Dal (QED) with the SP.
|UP CM Akhilesh Yadav was handed over the lollipop of state parliamentary board chief. (Photo credit: India Today)
Not very long ago, he along with Ram Gopal were made to bite the dust over the re-entry of Amar Singh in the party – which both had opposed tooth and nail.
And Amar Singh came in handy for Shivpal when he wanted to plant his handpicked highly tainted IAS officer Deepak Singhal as the state’s new chief secretary.
Despite stiff opposition from Akhilesh, the shady bureaucrat was given the top job. It took Akhilesh two months to muster up courage to sack Singhal, to which both father as well as Shivpal and Amar took serious affront.
Barely a few hours earlier, he had also sacked mining minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati and Panchayat Raj minister Raj Kishore Singh, both of whom faced serious charges of corruption.
That too was a tough call because Prajapati enjoyed such close proximity to Mulayam that the latter castigated Akhilesh for flaying the minister for his alleged patronage to illegal mining.
But now the chief minister was armed with a high court order for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the minister’s role in illegal mining across the state.
Before Akhilesh could explain to his father the judicial expediency behind Prajapati’s removal, the Shivpal-Amar Singh duo made it appear to Mulayam that Akhilesh had turned insolent and that his moves were acts of defiance against the father.
A provoked Mulayam instantly divested Akhilesh of the position of state SP chief and replaced him with Shivpal, who had about four months earlier been already made “in-charge” of the state unit.
For the change, Akhilesh retaliated by stripping Shivpal of the key portfolios of public works, revenue and irrigation – considered as gold mines of the government. Instead, Shivpal was given the far less significant social welfare ministry.
That marked the end of the long drawn out “cold war” which now took the shape of an open battle.
It seemed Akhilesh had decided to have it out with his uncle, to whom he wanted to explicitly convey that enough was enough. Ram Gopal stood by Akhilesh while Amar Singh played his machinations from behind Shivpal.
Having used his influence over Shivpal to not only regain entry into SP (after being thrown out seven years ago) but also a Rajya Sabha berth despite stiff opposition from Akhilesh and Ram Gopal, Amar Singh was understood to have been working towards having Shivpal usurp the CM’s chair.
And once Akhilesh could see things heading in that direction (which he hinted in an interview to India TV), he trained his guns directly at his "chacha" and made no bones about declaring war on agent provocateur Amar Singh, whom he referred as the “outsider”.
Mulayam, who had never expected the docile son to rise to the occasion, finally stepped in to end the turmoil that was eventually going to take its toll on the party’s prospects in the next state poll. He first told Akhilesh and Shivpal to sit across the table and sort it out amicably.
But the meeting only stoked more fireworks.
Around midnight on September 15, Mulayam quietly asked Shivpal to resign and no sooner had the latter put in his papers to abdicate both ministership as well as presidentship of the party’s state unit, the father summoned the son again and blamed him for bringing things to such a head that the party stood on the verge of a split. Twelve hours later, in the morning, came a surprise roll-back.
What began with the assurance to take back the two sacked “corrupt” ministers, ended with restoration of all of "chacha" Shivpal’s lucrative portfolios.
The young CM also failed to get what he had been deprived of - the position of state SP chief – a loss over which he expressed his anguish in an interview to India TV the same day.
Another 24 hours later, he was handed over the lollipop of state parliamentary board chief - a position that none had heard of earlier.
All that he has been assured of by the father is that the “outsider” (read Amar Singh) would not be allowed to meddle with the affairs of the family or governance. The only saving grace for Akhilesh is that Singhal’s return has not been sought so far by the now clearly one-up "chacha" Shivpal.
At the end of the day, no one knows who won and who lost in the family drama. And sure enough what remains is a million dollar question is – whether the truce will last until the next election, when the party may have to pay a heavy price for ending up as any other dynastic feudal family under the garb of what is called the Samajwadi Party.