Kapil Sibal could help thaw Akhilesh-Azam ties

A Rajya Sabha seat to Sibal should help a rapprochement between Azam and Akhilesh, and the lawyer's rapport with regional satraps assist opposition unity efforts
Last Updated 27 May 2022, 04:28 IST

The sudden switching of loyalties by old-time Congressman Kapil Sibal to the Samajwadi Party (SP) might have taken many by surprise, more so because SP chief Akhilesh Yadav decided to support his independent candidature for a Rajya Sabha seat. Sure enough, both have their respective axes to grind in the bargain, and there is reason to believe that lots must have happened behind the scenes before this arrangement could be crystallised.

It is believed that Akhilesh's decision to make way for Sibal's entry into the Upper House of Parliament when he had no future left in the Congress party was prompted, among other things, by his vested interest. That apparently could be his restlessness in rebuilding bridges with Azam Khan, who was chagrined over the indifference with which Akhilesh had visibly treated him.

Sibal is also being seen as a potential lead mediator for bringing together various opposition parties under a common umbrella to put up a united front against the mighty ruling BJP and its virtually invincible juggernaut - Narendra Modi.

It is an open secret that Sibal was responsible for getting SP stalwart Azam Khan out of his unusually long incarceration in jail. On more than one occasion, Khan had expressed his disillusionment with Akhilesh, who he felt had not cared to push for his bail even though he was holed up behind bars for more than two years.

Only after Akhilesh's estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav visited Khan in the Sitapur jail that the SP chief choose to send a party veteran, Ravidas Mehrotra, to call on him. But that was evidently too late, and Khan made no bones about shutting his doors to Akhilesh's envoy. Subsequently, after Sibal managed to get him bail from the highest court of the land, Shivpal was again one-up on his nephew by making it a point to be at the jail gates when Azam was set free. Apparently, Akhilesh could not muster enough courage to receive him outside the prison. Perhaps he was apprehensive about getting rebuked publicly by Khan, known for his short temper.

Maybe, the realisation dawned on Akhilesh a bit late in the day that Khan was not just another SP leader but someone who stood with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav right from the inception of the Samajwadi Party. More importantly, Khan had always remained the minority face of the party that received the bulk of the Muslim vote ever since the decline of the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh post-1989. Interestingly, while a section of Muslims accused Akhilesh of trying to play "soft Hindutva" by ignoring Khan, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath topped it all through his sarcasm, "Perhaps Akhilesh Yadav himself does not want that Azam Khan should be out of jail."

Adityanath overlooked that it was his tirade against Khan that had led to his incarceration in jail. The UP Police had charged him in as many as 87 cases with charges as frivolous as "goat stealing", "hen stealing", or "bicycle stealing", besides "land-grabbing".

There was also every reason for Akhilesh to be aware that a large section of the minority community had become averse to what they termed as his obvious "neglect" of Khan. After all, Khan had played a positive role in openly supporting Mulayam Singh when the latter wanted to pass on the chief minister's mantle to his son Akhilesh instead of his younger brother and a strong contender, Shivpal.

Under the circumstances, nothing could have been a better bet for Akhilesh than offering a Rajya Sabha berth to Kapil Sibal, who was clearly instrumental in getting Khan bailed out at long last. After all, Khan had already expressed his deep gratitude publicly to Sibal.

Sure enough, that gives enough legitimate reason for paving the way for a rapprochement between Khan and Akhilesh. And this time, the olive branch is likely to be extended through Kapil Sibal.

Later on, when the time is ripe for building a consensus for a united fight against the all-powerful ruling dispensation, Sibal's networking skills could come in handy to rope in various regional satraps for a new coalition to make a bid for re-writing the political destiny of the country in 2024.

(Sharat Pradhan is a Lucknow-based journalist and author)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 27 May 2022, 03:40 IST)

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