Samajwadi Party is having an eventful week. Ministers and bureaucrats sacked, family spats, power tussles – the average television soap has nothing on Uttar Pradesh politics.
First came the sacking of Gayatri Prasad Prajapati on September 12. A Below Poverty Card (BPL) card holder in 2002 to allegedly the owner of property worth Rs 900 crore; from a two-bit leader to an influential minister in the Samajwadi Party (SP) government in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Prajapati’s rise has been phenomenal. There have been numerous charges against former Mining Minister Prajapati — including taking kickbacks in mining contracts, allegations of land grab, extortion — ever since 2012, when Akhilesh Yadav came to power, all of which the Chief Minister has ignored.
The reason Prajapati was spared for so long is that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s love for Prajapati is a well-known secret in SP. According to sources in the party, miffed by the rampant corruption institutionalised by Prajapati in the mining ministry, Akhilesh on several occasions sought Mulayam’s permission to get rid of Prajapati. However, every time such a request was made by Akhilesh, Mulayam advised him to focus on administration, rather than demand his blue-eyed Prajapati’s head. Last year, Mulayam, after repeated request by Akhilesh and some other leaders of SP to tighten the reins on Prajapati, went to the extent of saying at a party meeting, “Those targeting Prajapati consider that they are targeting me.”
With Netaji’s (the title accorded to Mulayam by SP leaders and workers) backing, Prajapati feared no one.
So what was the straw that broke the back of Prajapati’s immunity?
Sources in SP told Newslaundry, that by sacking Prajapati, the UP chief minister has tried to save his government from a major embrassment coming the party’s way in the form of a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry. Allahabad High Court ordered a CBI investigation to probe illegal mining in UP, including the role of government officials on July 28. It gave the CBI a six-week deadline (starting July 28) to conduct a probe and file a report. On Sepetember 9, the court rejected the state government’s plea to withdraw an order for the CBI probe into allegations of illegal mining in the state. “Akhilesh is sure that once the CBI submits its report, Prajapati is going to be one of the key accused,” said a SP leader who is close to Akhilesh. “It would be embarrassing if Prajapati was still the mining minister when the reports come out.”
With UP assembly elections round the corner, the opposition described Akhilesh’s actions a cosmetic surgery. “It is too little and too late. It is a mere eyewash,” said Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee leader.
Meanwhile, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) UP unit is taking credit for the sacking of Prajapati. “Our party has been raising the issue of illegal mining in the state. The decision should have been taken earlier,” BJP state general secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak told Newslaundry.
Yesterday, there were more changes in store. Akhilesh shunted bureaucrat Deepak Singhal, known widely as a confidant of SP leader Shivpal Singh Yadav, out of his position as Chief Secretary and replaced him with Principal Secretary (Finance) Rahul Bhatnagar. Singhal had joined this position only two months ago. Rumour has it that Singhal was paying more attention to Shivpal than Akhilesh, and this cost him his job.
The rift between Akhilesh and Shivpal is out in open. Shivpal, who is also Akhilesh’s uncle, reacted to his favourite being sacked by conveying his displeasure to Mulayam. Sources told Newslaundry that Shivpal threatened to leave SP along with leaders loyal to him. Possibly in response to this, after consulting with SP Chief National General Secretary Ram Gopal Yadav, Mulayam removed Akhilesh from the post of SP state party president and replaced him with Shivpal yesterday evening.
Within an hour of Shivpal’s appointment as SP state president, Akhilesh stripped Shivpal of the significant portfolios of Public Works Department (PWD), Irrigation and Cooperative. Now Shivpal holds only the Peace and Welfare ministry in UP. The rift between Shivpal and Akhilesh is likely to cause SP a major dent in upcoming assembly elections in the state. In 2012, during the run for UP assembly elections the Yadavs from Mulayam’s clan spoke in unanimous voice. As a result , SP came into power in UP with a thumping majority in 2012. However, this time two most admired leaders of SP, after Mulayam Singh, are at loggerheads and party workers are confused regarding whom to rally around .
If there’s anything that is evident from this week’s ruckus in UP, it is the crisis that threatens Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party. Netaji has held SP together since 1992, after it emerged as one of the regional parties from breakaway faction of erstwhile Janta Dal. There were times when his own trusted lieutenants Azam Khan and Amar Singh went against him, but Mulayam outwitted them every time. Both Khan and Singh eventually returned to the party. However, this time, Mulayam is up against his own family. Is this Netaji’s biggest challenge yet?