Even as Akhilesh Yadav has emerged stronger in Uttar Pradesh politics, the Samajwadi Party has become weaker due to family feud, reports Virendra Singh Rawat.
Since last month, Uttar Pradesh's drawing rooms have seen interest plummet in TV serials. Many are instead tuning to news channels for the latest on the widening rift in the state’s first family, the Yadav clan. Now in the open, it has all the ingredients of a silver screen drama, with a sprinkling of suspense, conspiracy, jealousy, fightbacks, factionalism, et al.
There have always been murmurs about discontent in the ruling Samajwadi Party and the state government. Yet, the Yadav family had always presented a united face in public.
The power struggle in the SP continues. While Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has emerged stronger, the party has become weaker. With the 2017 polls just about five months away, party workers are still recovering from the shocks served by the top leadership. But the tumult shows no signs of ending.
There had been sporadic events over the recent months. Senior SP leader Shivpal Singh Yadav, also Akhilesh’s uncle, had publicly expressed dismay over the working of some officials and leaders, who he claimed have been working against the interests of the government. He said these officials were not heeding his directives and causing impediments in projects related to the public works department. On Sunday, Akhilesh sacked him from a Cabinet post. Two other Cabinet ministers -- Narad Rai and Om Prakash Singh -- along with minister of state, Fatima, were also sacked.
Patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav has also, more than once, chided Akhilesh publicly for allowing coteries to develop among officials and party leaders.
Fault lines had begun to emerge prominently as far back as after the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, which saw the Samajwadi Party reduce its tally in the state from the 23 it won in 2009 to five, out of 80. Since Akhilesh had been given a free hand to manage the 2014 polls, hushed demands were voiced even to get Mulayam back in command, after the SP’s disastrous performance.
However, Mulayam stood behind Akhilesh, although several party leaders and even ministers were removed from prominent positions following the debacle. This reinforced the perception that Akhilesh had neither power nor authority and continued to function from under the shadow of his father and uncles.
As chief minister, he was not going to take this lying down. Over time, he started to assert his authority and ownership of flagship projects, postings, party hierarchy, etc, causing heartburn among the old guard.
On September 12 , Akhilesh dismissed two powerful ministers, Gayatri Prasad Prajapati and Raj Kishore Singh. The next day, he removed Chief Secretary Deepak Singhal, who was considered close to Shipval. Akhilesh also divested Shivpal of key portfolios, including public works department and irrigation, after Mulayam replaced Akhilesh with Shivpal as state unit president. Soon after, Shivpal said he was resigning from the Cabinet and party posts. There was acrimony at the Lucknow party office between supporters of Akhilesh and Shivpal, with shrill slogans, causing huge embarrassment.
On September 15, Mulayam rushed to Lucknow to firefight, since he could see the power tussle had started to demoralise the cadres. Under the terms of the truce, Prajapati was re-inducted on September 26, while Shivpal continued to be the party’s UP president.
However, on October 1, Akhilesh stripped Shivpal of two other portfolios, social welfare and minor irrigation, and allotted these to other ministers. On his part, Shivpal reiterated that the merger of the Qaumi Ekta Dal into the SP was effective and there was no need of a fresh announcement. On June 21, Shivpal had announced the merger of the two parties in the presence of QED President Afzal Ansari, elder brother of incarcerated mafia don and legislator Mukhtar Ansari. Akhilesh had opposed the decision and the SP parliamentary board had called it off.
Meanwhile, Shivpal has nominated key aides in the 81-member SP state executive, while showing the door to Akhilesh’s confidants.
On October 14, Mulayam, replying to a media query in Lucknow, said the party’s parliamentary board and legislators would select the next CM if the SP secured a majority. This put a question mark over the SP’s election face.
A day later, party general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav, another uncle but one who supports Akhilesh, wrote a terse letter to Mulayam against not projecting Akhilesh as the CM candidate. Later, SP national vice-president Kironmoy Nanda had to announce that Akhilesh remained the party’s official chief ministerial candidate for the polls. He claimed Mulayam was only referring to the procedure of electing the CM. On Sunday, Mulayam sacked Ram Gopal from the party for six years. Shivpal said he was accused of colluding with the BJP.
Against this backdrop, two things stand clear. First, the fissure is too deep to mend in the SP, witnessing a generational shift in leadership. Second, the party has decided to rally behind Akhilesh for the polls, since he remains the best face in the party to project before the electorate.
All said, the SP has already suffered immensely and is now perceived weaker in comparison to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. The raging feud has confused cadres and led to factionalism. It threatens to derail the SP’s election campaign, with it already battling anti-incumbency, apart from stiff challenges from both the BJP and the BSP.
Owing to the power struggle, the SP was recently placed third in reckoning behind the BJP and the BSP in a pre-poll survey conducted by a news channel.
Akhilesh has now decided to chart his own course on the poll campaign. He has sent a letter to Mulayam on proceeding with the ‘Samajwadi Vikas Rath Yatra’ from November 3. He said it was earlier scheduled from October 3 but had got delayed, even as other parties had kicked off their respective campaigns.
Interestingly, the SP is preparing to celebrate its silver jubilee on November 5 in Lucknow and his yatra could mean he’d have to skip the celebrations. The dismissed youth wing leaders have announced they’ll boycott the function and have demanded their reinstatement, while affirming support to Akhilesh.
Meanwhile, demands from certain quarters are also being raised to designate him the party’s national president in place of Mulayam before the state polls.
Photograph: Nand Kumar/PTI Photo.