SP old guard outwits Akhilesh

Feud in the open: Sudden explosion of internal squabbles ahead of 2017 polls has given hope to rivals
Last Updated 24 September 2016, 18:35 IST
The nearly week-long convulsions that jolted the ruling Yadav family in Uttar Pradesh has once again proved that realpolitik compulsions are far more important than principles or rules of political morality in a state where caste and communal considerations dominate the formulation of election strategy.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who initially tried to lay down his own principles of political ethics, ultimately yielded and accepted the rules set by his father and Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav.

There were two major issues on which Akhilesh had challenged the party establishment. First was the case of Gayatri Prajapati, a minister facing serious allegations of corruption, who was dropped from the Cabinet. Second was the case of “interference by an outsider” – Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh – in the party’s internal affairs.

Akhilesh was made to understand that it was not for him to take decisions on such matters. In Prajapati’s case, the chief minister agreed to reinstate him, but he may be alloted a different portfolio. In the other case, Mulayam – popular as “Netaji” to his followers and friends – further enhanced Singh’s standing by appointing him the party general secretary. Akhilesh was mum.

What forced Akhilesh to change his stand on these issues is anybody’s guess. On the face of it, the retreat was made following a series of bipartite and tripartite meetings between Mulayam, Akhilesh and his uncle Shivpal Yadav. Akhilesh sacked Prajapati apparently to give the impression that he wanted a clean Cabinet. However, he later said if his father wanted Prajapati reinstated, he had no problem. This kind of reconciliation looked strange as Prajapati, who faced charges of corruption only a few days ago, still continues to face allegations.

In Singh’s case, besides Akhilesh, two other senior SP leaders – Ram Gopal Yadav and state minister Azam Khan – objected to his interference in the affairs of the family. Singh, who has connections across the political spectrum, is considered to be of immense utility in times of crisis. Considering his worth and the humiliation suffered from senior party leaders, Mulayam awarded Singh the post of general secretary through a handwritten letter. Mulayam belives Singh can organise the Thakurs for the party.

The crisis, however, brought to the fore several dimensions of uneasiness in the functioning of the SP as Mulayam seemed to be losing control over the organisation.
The crisis also had symptoms of a turf war among various claimants for his political legacy. This is the first instance of anyone in the family challenging Netaji’s authority, giving room to his political opponents to make snide remarks at him.

But Mulayam did succeed in negotiating a truce between his son and brother Shivpal, but left behind severe repercussions for the future of his party and his own personality. Apparently, Mulayam chastised Akhilesh who had exercised his authority to usurp important departments from Shivpal, and also stuck to his decision to replace Akhilesh with Shivpal as head of the state unit of the party.

As a result of the final agreement, Akhilesh was made head of the SP parliamentary board which is responsible for distribution of tickets to candidates for the 2017 Assembly elections. Akhilesh also held on to the PWD portfolio, while handing over other departments he had taken away from Shivpal.

The turning point

It is still not clear if the concessions were extracted by Akhilesh or they were given to him as a face saver. When the crisis was on, Akhilesh’s supporters, while demanding the post of state unit president for him, staged an aggressive protest near Mulayam’s residence. They made it look like a political war against Mulayam waged by the chief minister, whether by design or by mistake. That was totally unacceptable to Mulayam.

After calm had been restored, these protesters were dealt with ruthlessly. The first casualty was Arvind Yadav, an MLC and a nephew of Ram Gopal Yadav who was expelled on charges of land grabbing. Three other MLCs and four chiefs of various frontal organisations of the party were expelled the next day. Sensing the mood of the leadership, more than 50 youth wing office bearers resigned on their own. The resignations were readily accepted. All the expulsions were ordered by the new state chief Shivpal, who claimed Mulayam’s backing.

Ram Gopal’s son Akshay Yadav, who had openly sided with the chief minister during the crisis, briefly came forward to protest against Arvind’s ouster but kept silent after realising the situation. In an attempt to minimise the damage caused by their rift, the real extent of which is still to be assessed, both Akhilesh and his uncle have repeatedly sent “all is well” signals and Shivpal has averred that the party will form the next government in the state under Akhilesh.

The Opposition’s reaction has been on expected lines. The BJP and BSP leaders say that financial and self interests of the ruling family is behind the feud. But those who expected Akhilesh to behave like an angry young man, ready to cleanup political rot and usher in a new kind of leadership wedded to principles of honesty and good governance, were left disappointed. Akhilesh gave this impression by various actions, and alienation of this new category of his fans would be the real political loss for the young chief minister after his surrender to the party old guard.

The rest is expected to remain as usual with the party management back in Mulayam’s hand through his brother Shivpal. For these political champions, elections in Uttar Pradesh have their own dynamics and cannot be won with the help of popularity-seeking campaigns on social media or by influencing the urban voters through other means.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Lucknow)
(Published 24 September 2016, 17:24 IST)

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