Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh is a worried man these days. Caught between his son Akhilesh Yadav and brother Shivpal Yadav, Mulayam’s situation is that of a patriarch who can see his house getting divided, but has no control over the event.
However, Netaji – as Mulayam is referred to by SP leaders and supporters – is making desperate attempts to diffuse the differences within his family. One such attempt was made on Independence Day. “Shivpal is working very hard,” Mulayam said at a flag-hoisting event in Lucknow. “A few people are against him. If he quits, then the situation for the party will become bad. Half of the people will go with him.” He was speaking to the media in presence of party leaders, including his son and chief minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Akhilesh Yadav. Mulayam was reminded by some of his close aides on the dais not to raise this issue in the presence of the media, but he paid no heed. “How does it matter? An issue that is true, is true,” Mulayam retorted.
Mulayam’s public posturing to side with his brother Shivpal was a reaction to Shivpal’s statement a day earlier, in which the latter threatened to resign from the party if SP MLAs and MLCs involved in land grabbing and other illegal activities were not expelled from the party. Shivpal issued this threat in Mainpuri — a district in UP that is the stronghold of SP — and accused the Akhilesh-led state government for losing a grip on law and order enforcement. “Government staff at police stations and tehsils are not paying heed to public grievances,” he said.
Shivpal was clearly pointing out the failures of Akhilesh when he targeted the SP government. Though such issues were initially discussed in party meetings, now the differences between chacha (uncle) and bhatija (nephew) are out in the open.
The battle within
The relationship between Shivpal and Akhilesh became strained after an incident in January 2012. Akhilesh was campaigning in UP when he learnt that SP is going to induct mafia-turned-politician DP Yadav into the party. He put his foot down and declared that “people having criminal antecedent will not be taken into the party.” Akhilesh was the poster boy of development for SP and consequently, Mulayam immediately took back his decision to induct DP Yadav. However, the person who really felt the sting of this overturned decision was Shivpal, who had acted as a mediator between the mafia-turned-politician and the party and he took it as a personal insult when DP Yadav’s entry was blocked by Akhilesh.
Shivpal received a second jolt when on March 10, 2012, after gaining a clear-cut majority in UP elections, Akhilesh was unanimously chosen to be CM of the state in a meeting of SP legislators. Only two leaders were not convinced with Akhilesh’s candidature — Shivpal and Azam Khan, the party’s Muslim face.
On March 15, 2012, Akhilesh was sworn-in as the youngest CM of UP. “Relations between Shivpal and Akhilesh were never the same once the latter was sworn-in as the CM of the state,” Pankaj Jha, editor of ABP News, told Newslaundry.
The latest chacha-bhatija feud sparked off on July 21, when Shivpal announced the merger of Qaumi Ekta Dal (QAD) with SP. Another gangster-turned-politician, Mukhtar Ansari (currently in Lucknow jail) is an MLA from QAD. “Akhilesh is working to keep the image of SP clean and merger of QAD with SP was a serious setback to him,” said an Akhilesh loyalist.
The chief minister showed his displeasure over the merger by sacking a close aide of Shivpal and secondary education minister Balram Yadav, as a mark of protest. He openly vented his ire regarding the merger when during a function organised by a media house, he said “Mukhtar Ansari will not be welcome in the party. We don’t want such people in the party.” With Akhilesh making his stand clear, the merger was called off within three days.
However, this time it is Mulayam himself who is not happy with Akhilesh’s stance. “Mukhtar has lot of clout not only among Muslims, but also Hindus in eastern part of UP. He wields enough influence in the Muslim community in districts like Mau, Gazipur, Azamgarh and Varanasi ,” said J P Shukla, former chief-of-bureau of The Hindu in UP. Sources have told Newslaundry that Mulayam is keen to have a merger with QAD and this time, he is supervising the process. “Mulayam is an astute politician. He knows that Muslims are slipping away from SP. Mukhtar could help Mulayam in gaining back Muslim voters in eastern UP,” Shukla said.
So where is SP heading with Akhilesh and Shivpal at loggerheads and the party divided into two factions? “The biggest name in SP still is Mulayam,” said Jha. “He knows how to manoeuvre out of a political crisis.” However, this time the crisis seems to have blown out of proportion and Mulayam is finding it difficult to convince Akhilesh to accept the merger. “It is a matter of image for Akhilesh bhaiyaa. If Mukhtar’s party is merged with SP, the party is likely to see its biggest revolt,” said a SP leader close to Akhilesh.