When Netaji wrestled his son for the UP pie

Netaji is not new to political battles. However, this time he is against his own protégé Akhilesh Yadav

Gunja Kapoor | January 5, 2017


#Uttar Pradesh   #Assembly Polls   #SP   #Samajwadi Party   #Mulayam Singh Yadav   #Akhilesh Yadav   #UP Polls  


In a swift series of events, the SP patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav, fondly known as Netaji, expelled his son, Akhilesh Yadav from Samajwadi Party. After a prolonged internal struggle of power, and the family feud playing itself out it public, the battle got murkier when Akhilesh Yadav’s list of candidates for the 2017 elections was shredded by his father, in favour of belligerent Shivpal Singh Yadav, younger brother of Netaji.

Prior to 2012, Uttar Pradesh politics was plagued with politics of Mayawati, replete with caste divide, corruption, and ostentatious show of power and money. The youth of the state was disillusioned, as unemployment spiralled, state debt increased, and industries raced to mortality.

With UPA II scams, BJP not willing to compromise with its staunch socio-religious stance, and BSP synonymous to a cesspool, SP was UP’s best bet.

In 2012, Samajwadi Party won the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, with 224 seats, the highest ever single party majority since 1993 (BJP, 177 seats). The party won by garnering 29.1 percent of votes.

2012 elections not only reinstated SP as a political force to reckon with, it also sent out a message of optimism for the youth, with the young chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, 38, at the helm of affairs.

Akhilesh Yadav and Netaji together represented a near perfect blend of the energy and experience. He won on a pro-development agenda, promising the change, UP was desperate for. Raja Bhaiya and Gundaraaj image continued to be the visible blemishes.

Uttar Pradesh is a complex state, with a skewed sex ratio, caste divide running deep, educated population of 67%, year-on- year migration of 2.7 million, and poor health index. Akhilesh Yadav fought through inimical political and social forces that went hammer and tongs to ensure the young politician failed, and failed miserably. In 2012, armchair analysts called him “Netaji ka beta”, for Akhilesh had less than a decade of political work behind him, his development plans seemed too good to be true, his interviews candid and honest. He was far from the grey streaked UP politician, who spewed venom and resorted to communal games time and again.

Akhilesh Yadav learnt the tricks of the trade from the best, Netaji himself, with a difference. When most politicos who refuse to get out election mode, blame their failures on predecessors, and support their questionable acts with the rhetoric, “they also did it”, this young man admitted his failures and took accountability for lapses, each time situation demanded high profile intervention.

Each time he was questioned about winning elections or his strategy to combat competition, Akhilesh would quip, “May the best man win”. He vocally opposed opportunists like Amar Singh, and continued to do so, even after Netaji reconciled with him. Akhilesh Yadav steered away from being the obedient son, by asserting his views and decisions, including breaking ties with Shivpal and hiring the strategist Steve Jarding. Moreover, it was heartening to see Akhilesh Yadav staying put to UP, not expanding his ambitions to other parts of the nation.

The unprecedented popularity of Akhilesh Yadav did not go down well with some senior aspirational members of the SP cadre. With visible mass support and MLAs in his camp, Akhilesh Yadav did not hesitate in taking some tough and bold decisions. Arnab Goswami in 2013 asked, Akhilesh Yadav if he is a man with good intentions, surrounded by wrong people, and he had responded with a nonchalant nod. In a party that was touted as “parivaarvadi”, expulsion of Shivpal Yadav by his own nephew was considered outright brazen by the high command. Mulayam Singh Yadav was caught in a spot, when he was asked to take sides between his brother and his son.

It is speculated that Netaji was also worried about losing ground, with his son enjoying both public and political support. All political leaders used instances of “ghar waapsi”, Mathura clash of Ram Vriksh Yadav, Badayun rape case, Dadri lynching as photo opportunities and held Akhilesh Yadav solely responsible for lapses. Let us not forget, that not even Netaji came to Akhilesh’s rescue when opposition hurled attacks at him for perpetuating a polarised climate.

Akhilesh Yadav had time and again urged SP to get rid of all members who had a checkered past, some of whom were Netaji’s loyalists. However, Netaji refused to relent. He not only trashed his son’s list of candidates, he expelled the man whom he himself trained for the battleground. His statement “people of Uttar Pradesh had accepted Akhilesh Yadav as the chief minister because he is my son”, in September 2016 was the last nail in the coffin. Did Netaji imply that his son has not delivered, and deserves to be ousted? Was he writing his script to defeat? Did Netaji want to be remembered as the Dasharatha of Indian politics, who exiled his son at the behest of his loyalists?

Little did he know that Akhilesh Yadav will have both, numbers and demographics to his side.

Akhilesh Yadav galvanised the masses with his energy and classes with his acumen. More than 150 MLAs reported their presence at the Akhilesh camp, a resplendent show of force. As Akhilesh supporters gained ground, some even walking in biting cold, from places as far as Balia, only for their Akhilesh bhaiya, the senior leadership got the message, clear and crisp. Reconciliation was the only way to ensure Akhilesh did not walk away with the larger share of the pie. Even amidst the chilly winds that engulfed the capital of national politics, temperatures soared at the two camps on Vikramaditya Marg in Lucknow.

Netaji is not new to political battles. However, this time he was against his own protégé, who had learnt the masterstrokes of power from Netaji himself. The massive public and party support was a clear indicator that Netaji’s son had learnt the game well, making his father proud. Like another shrewd patriarch, Netaji revoked Akhilesh’s expulsion, to prevent the 25-year old party from collapsing. Moreover, SP ran the risk of losing its youth vote bank and its USP of being an undivided family.

Some questions that remain to be answered are: did Netaji expel Akhilesh in the heat of moment, or is there more than what meets the eye? Was this an independent decision of a seasoned politician or a desperate effort by an octogenarian to save his ground? Was an invisible hand writing this script?

2016, the SP that was.

(Kapoor is an associate fellow at Pahle India Foundation)
 

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