The 75-year-old Samajwadi Party patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been publicly rebuking the 42-year-old Uttar Pradesh chief minister who also happens to be his son. Is the public display of anger for real? Or is it just a way of fooling the public? Sudhir Bisht spoke with some keen observers of politics in UP to find out what they feel about Netaji’s anger.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, the three-time chief minister and one-time Union defence minister, is clearly on the offensive when it comes to dealing with his son, Akhilesh Yadav, the present chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Earlier this week, at a function in Lucknow, the 75-year-old Samajwadi Party patriarch gave a dressing down to the 42-year-old son which was surprisingly not criticised enough by the watchdogs of Indian politics.
The manner in which the wrestler-turned-politician berated the CM of UP left many real socialists aghast.
The senior Yadav’s way of addressing the CM was most despicable. When Mulayam, or Netaji as he is fondly called by his fawning followers, was speaking about the CM's failure in getting relief-aid from the Centre, he observed that the CM was not paying attention to his speech. Mulayam felt infuriated and addressed the CM very disdainfully. His somewhat lispy way of addressing the CM can be translated as “Hey you chief minister.”
Mulayam then went on with his attack, saying that he had told the CM several times to give him a note on the relief-aid that the Centre should have provided but wasn’t forthcoming.
Mulayam then wondered aloud as to why the CM was not giving him the detailed note on the relief that was needed from the Centre.
It is not for the first time that Mulayam Singh Yadav has rebuked his son publicly.
The Samajwadi Party was marginalised in the Lok Sabha elections in May 2014 when the Bharatiya Janata Party swept the state, winning 73 seats out of 80. Ever since, Mulayam seems to have targeted his son for public rebuke.
Mulayam made his son the scapegoat as he criticised the UP CM for free distribution of laptops. He is on record as saying that he had told the CM not to distribute free laptops. Mulayam has further said it was because of the laptops that his party lost the elections as the people of the state used to watch Narendra Modi's speeches on the laptops
The question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is, why is Mulayam criticising his son so viciously?
Attempt at image makeover
There are observers who say that Mulayam is a skillful politician who knows how to create a favourable image in the public mind.
He has been under serious criticism himself from the media for meddling in the state government’s affairs. His recent misdemeanour, when he allegedly threatened a senior IPS officer, Amitabh Thakur, hasn’t done anything good to his image. Mulayam’s party has said that Netaji was the patriarch and he chides everyone as if from his own family. Mulayam’s open criticism of his own son is seen as a reinforcement of that line of logic that seeks to perpetuate the image of a “good-at-heart, rough-with-words” taskmaster.
“For Netaji everyone is the same. He can threaten anyone, be it a bureaucrat or his own son, but only for the good of state,” says a Mulayam admirer.
Mulayam isn’t happy with the independent ways of Akhilesh
Some people hold a very different view. They aver that it was open knowledge that Akhilesh is slowly but surely trying to become his own man. Whenever possible Akhilesh is trying to ignore the coterie of bureaucrats and ministers whom he doesn’t trust. This may have angered his father who is getting restless with his once ‘obedient’ son.
Some observers believe that Samajwadi Party’s thumping win in the last state assembly elections was as much due to the bad governance by Mayawati as it was due to Akhilesh’s relentless and energetic campaign. Akhilesh was the face of the campaign and a large number of first-timers voted for the party as they saw a ray of hope in the young, urbane and relatively sophisticated Yadav Jr. Akhilesh owes it to them to live up to that image.
There are two paths for Akhilesh to take.
He can merge his own identity with the Samajwadi credo that is seen to be thriving in nepotism, has scant respect for administration and very little concern for the tenets of good governance. The other way for Akhilesh is to come out of his father’s shadow and be his own man. Akhilesh doesn’t want to follow the traditional Samajwadi path but falls short in terms of courage for being his own man.
As an old socialist leader says, “Akhilesh is popular but has not yet reached a position that his counterpart in Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has reached. Stalin today has a good grip over his party. Akhilesh has a long way to go in this respect.”
Netaji's grumpiness is age related
Another set of people say that once agile, energetic and always ‘in-control’ Mulayam Singh is becoming a victim of age and general grumpiness that comes with age.
“Netaji is no longer the force that he once was,” says an old Samajwadi worker. Once a forceful speaker, his speech is now slurred. He is far from the robust wrestler-leader that he once was.
“Old age makes you irritable. You start arguing with your own children over small matters. This is what has happened to our Netaji. Let’s not criticise him so much for one or two rounds of outbursts. Let’s remember that he has the good of the state at heart always,” says another commoner who says he always votes for Netaji.
The father-son duo is a planned act
An old-timer from the BJP says the father and the son have a perfect relationship and work in tandem. He says that some of the older members of the party, especially those who have been with Netaji for many decades, are uncomfortable working under someone whom they have seen as a toddler, someone who once played in their lap.
Mulayam’s public criticism is just to lighten the mental suffering of these oldies. After rebuking his son in public, Netaji would smile at his old associates and convey a message which says, 'See I have shown the young chief minister his place. You see I, your friend, am still the one in control. Don’t have any misgivings.'
The way the young people of UP see it
Whether the father’s rebuke for his son is real or is it just for the cameras is a question that perhaps can be answered by the Yadavs but this is not being received very well by the young and educated voters of Uttar Pradesh.
There are questions being asked and I reproduce them as under:
“Why is it that the party supremo is being allowed to interfere in the affairs of the state government?”
“Is it the constitutionally correct position to be taken by the CM to be allowed to be insulted by the party president?”
“Who is running the state of Uttar Pradesh, an elected chief minister or his back-seat-driving father?”
“If the criticism of Netaji is right, then why is Akhilesh not acknowledging the same and announcing corrective measures?”
“If Mulayam Singh is so unhappy with Akhilesh then why does he not take direct control and become CM himself?”
“Doesn’t Akhilesh owe it to his voters to stand up to his father and tell him to desist from publicly making fun of the elected chief minister of the most populous state of the country?”
So, is Akhilesh suffering his father’s public reprimand just for the time being before he breaks free?
Image: Mulayam Singh Yadav with Akhilesh Yadav
Sudhir Bisht is a published author and a freelance columnist. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org