By Amulya Ganguli
Till a few weeks ago, Akhilesh Yadav appeared uncertain about how far he should go in challenging his domineering father and canny uncle.
He had started off by claiming that he takes his own decisions and depriving his uncle, Shivpal Yadav, of his portfolios and dismissing a minister considered “close” to him, as is said about servile followers in India. But, then, the Chief Minister backtracked on being ticked off by his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, returned Shivpal’s ministries to him and reinstated the dismissed minister.
Shivpal, on his part, demonstrated his clout by sacking some of Akhilesh’s youthful followers from the party. After sulking for some time, Akhilesh has now decided to start the next round of his battle with the elders in the family by announcing that he will skip the Samajwadi Party’s silver jubilee celebrations and go on a Rath Yatra to boost the party’s electoral chances.
It is now obvious that the conflict of the generations will continue in the foreseeable future with probably neither side emerging as the winner. The loser will undoubtedly be the party in next year’s assembly elections. And the reason will be the father-uncle duo’s strange propensity to shoot the party in the foot by marginalising and even humiliating its only winning prospect — the young and personable Chief Minister. It wasn’t only the generation gap which apparently made Mulayam Singh and Shivpal turn against Akhilesh. They were also uneasy about the latter’s growing popularity because of a clean image, modern outlook and a willingness to cleanse the party of thuggish elements.
None of this was acceptable to Mulayam Singh and Shivpal, who have built up their power bases by exploiting caste sentiments and recruiting musclemen. For the time being, they may no longer trash the teaching of English and the use of computers. But such an antediluvian attitude was part and parcel not long ago of their feudal, patriarchal, bucolic world-view where Uttar Pradesh will be a land of dimly-lit villages, muddy roads and women in purdah.
In a letter to Mulayam Singh, informing him — and not seeking permission — of the decision to go on a Rath Yatra, Akhilesh has stressed “vikas” as an objective which he will place before the people.In recent ads on television, which have now stopped, he had vowed to take Uttar Pradesh well and truly into the 21st century. In this respect, he represents the new breed of politicians who want to play the development card to win votes unlike their elders who depend on the politics of caste and communalism to woo and divide voters.
As a part of this tactic, Mulayam Singh and Shivpal brought about the merger of the don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal with the Samajwadi Party, which Akhilesh opposed. They also selected a murder accused as a poll candidate, much against the Chief Minister’s wishes.
As if to rub salt in the latter’s wounds, Mulayam Singh even said that the next Chief Minister will be chosen by party legislators, ruling out Akhilesh’s automatic nomination. However, it doesn’t take much political acumen to see that the bruising family feud is politically suicidal for the Samajwadi Party and can only boost the prospects of its two main adversaries – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP probably feels that its chances have improved in the wake of the Indian Army’s surgical strikes across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Along with this patriotic card, it has also decided to play the temple card by announcing the setting up of a Ram Museum, thereby seemingly plugging all the loopholes. The question remains, however, as to why Mulayam Singh has taken this patently destructive path for his party. Perhaps only a psychologist can decipher the meaning because it is his son who was seen to have a winning chance and not someone inside or outside the party. As such, the veteran, self-proclaimed Lohiate should have been pleased that his passing of the baton to his foreign-educated son was paying dividends even if Netaji himself, as Mulayam Singh is called by his acolytes, will have to take a back seat.
It is perhaps this prospect of losing his earlier influence, along with the possibility that the Samajwadi Party will morph into something dramatically different from its present backward-looking, bullying self, which led to Mulayam Singh’s offensive against Akhilesh.But it is a battle which he is unlikely to win. Time is against him, along with the composition of the electorate where the younger generation is no longer interested in sectarian trends. For them, Akhilesh represents the future while his father and uncle hark back to the past along with dubious companions like Amar Singh and Azam Khan.
Akhilesh himself is probably looking more to the 2022 election than the next one in 2017, in which few will now expect the Samajwadi Party to fare well. Five years later, however, it will be a different ball game. Akhilesh will then still be relatively young at 49 while his father and uncle are most likely to be seen as spent forces. He may still have the last laugh.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])