A riveting game of thrones is being played out in UP and the country’s biggest political family is fighting it out in the open. Months before the Assembly elections in the state, it is clear that chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is finally making an attempt to establish his supremacy in the government—that there is only one CM in UP, and that the state is not being run by three-and-a-half CMs, of which, his father, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav is the most powerful.
Ever since he took over as the CM in 2012, Akhilesh had to laugh off the barbs that the state was actually being run by his father Mulayam Singh, uncle Shivpal and senior party leader Azam Khan. To many, who had seen hope in the young Akhilesh, a post-graduate from Sydney, he turned out to be a disappointment as he allowed himself to be pushed into a corner by the party’s entrenched leadership. “There was little he could do. Netaji (as Mulayam is referred to in the party) refused to cede any ground to him. His uncles, and even outsiders, wielded more influence than him,” says a UP official, working closely with him.
Akhilesh blamed one such ‘outsider’, SP-veteran Amar Singh, for the present crisis in the party. Singh had recently inveigled himself back in the party fold after a six-year expulsion and even won a Rajya Sabha seat. Talking to Outlook, Singh has no qualms reiterating that he is “more of a Mulayamwadi than a Samajwadi.” He said that he was convinced Akhilesh was not referring to him when he talked about an ‘outsider’. “I am not an outsider. I live in Netaji’s heart,” said Singh.
“I am more of a Mulayamwadi than a Samajwadi. I am convinced Akhilesh is not referring to me as an outsider. I live in Netaji’s heart.”
Amar Singh, Rajya Sabha MP
However, the fact remains that it is endgame for Akhilesh. Though intrigue and family feuds are not new to the Yadav clan, the ongoing bout threatens to be the most damaging, coming at the time that it has. Akhilesh was in the midst of a combative campaign, trying to establish himself as the man of development who put UP on the path of progress, growth and prosperity. In the past 18 months, his publicity team had undertaken one of the most aggressive campaigns to build brand Akhilesh. In addition to traditional ways of publicity, air time on radio had been purchased to tell stories about UP—how the state had developed in the past few years. State government schemes were touched upon in these stories, while skirting any overt reference to Akhilesh.
“Bhaiyya (as Akhilesh is referred to by party men) has tried his best to improve the image of the party and also of the state. From the ‘gunda raj’ that SP was notorious for, he has been working towards turning it into a universal symbol of ‘vikas’—as the fastest growing state in the country. What has happened now is unfortunate. Mantriji (Shivpal Yadav) should not have taken things personally,” a senior SP leader told Outlook. He was referring to the ouster of two ministers—Gayatri Prajapati and Rajkishore Singh—from the Cabinet on charges of corruption. Akhilesh had also removed chief secretary Deepak Singhal, seen to be close to Shivpal and Amar Singh.
This had led to Shivpal running to Netaji—the final court of appeal for SP leaders—who promptly installed him as party chief, removing son Akhilesh. In retaliation, Akhilesh stripped Shivpal of most of his powerful portfolios. The fight now stands at the door of Mulayam, a former wrestler. Akhilesh seems unyielding and so does his uncle Shivpal, who enjoys great mass support, perhaps much more than Akhilesh.
Other political parties are watching with more than a keen interest, waiting to see how the melodrama will play out. Both, the BSP and the Congress are hoping that the feud will convince the Muslims—presently perceived as being firmly behind the SP—that the party is not strong enough to stop the BJP and may veer towards either of them. The BJP, which is making an aggressive electoral pitch in the state, thinks that the “open greed and fight for power” put on display by the SP will perhaps attract the electorate towards the saffron party.
BJP spokesperson Shrikant Sharma said that it was now clear as day that the SP government stood for “crime and corruption” and that people wanted a change. “They will vote for BJP’s agenda of good governance and development,” he told Outlook.