It was a balmy afternoon in 1998. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav had decided to pull off the biggest political coup by marrying his engineer son to Bihar’s ex-CM Lalu Yadav’s second daughter. But son Akhilesh had other plans. He was in love with young, petite Dimple - five years his junior and wanted to marry her. Mulayam would not hear of it and the argument turned ugly. The angry father refused to hear any more.
Mulayam’s buddy Amar Singh was present. He intervened, talked Akhilesh into apologising to his father and promised him he would get him married to Dimple. Mulayam himself admitted to this writer that he and his youngest brother Shivpal was opposed to the Akhilesh-Dimple marriage and had it not been for convincing arguments from Amar Singh and Prof Ram Gopal - Mulayam’s cousin - the marriage would not have happened.
So it was not for nothing that Akhilesh used to call Amar Singh ‘Uncle’. The irony is both are sworn enemies today.
Six years ago, Akhilesh lobbied with Ram Gopal and had the powerful Amar Singh thrown out of the party. He blamed Amar for all the ills plaguing the party - corruption, criminalisation and the filmy culture and blocked his return to the party all these years. He also blamed Amar Singh for engineering the latest spat with his father and Shivpal Chacha.
The story has all the ingredients of a Mahabharat (brothers and uncles fighting each other) as well as Ramayan (mother wanting her step-son to be exiled).
Distrust now dogs the family relationship; deep wounds have been inflicted and won’t be healed by sipping tea together. Though Shivpal might seem to have won the first round, nobody has emerged winner in this fratricidal war.
Shivpal has been retained as state party chief and has also been reinstated in the Cabinet. He has started hitting out at Akhilesh loyalists - throwing out eight of them in two days besides appointing Amar Singh as national general secretary of the party. He also got his loyalist Gayatri Prajapati- who had been removed by Akhilesh on numerous complaints of corruption - back in the Cabinet. The only consolation Akhilesh could draw was that he did not return Public Works Department (PWD) that handles all major construction projects in the state, be it buildings or roads. The department flush with money was coveted by Shivpal.
When all was well for four and a half years, why did hell break loose so suddenly? What was the immediate provocation that triggered this war of attrition? Just an off the cuff remark by Amar Singh or then Chief Secretary Deepak Singhal at Zee TV’s Subhash Chandra’s party in Delhi earlier this month?
What was the role of people like former MCI Chief Ketan Desai and Subroto Roy Sahara or other media barons? Why did the warring chieftains decide to resolve their differences on a TV show rather than speak plainly with each other in Mulayam’s presence?
Questions are aplenty but the explanations are few. Politics is like an iceberg where over 90 per cent remains under the surface, Less than 10 per cent comes to light. Even the best of political exposés do not reveal more than 15-20 per cent, unless of course, the main protagonists decide to speak out. And that too is not the truth but selective leakage, where you get to know only one side of the story. Rarely have we been aware of political developments and their backgrounds in entirety.
So we now know that Chacha-Bhatija have not been on good terms for some time. That was the reason why Akhilesh forced the de-merger of mafia don Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal (QED) with the SP. But people close to the Yadav family claim both were distrustful of each other even during the 2012 election campaign which Akhilesh spearheaded. An unwell Mulayam had then tried to use Akhilesh’s effervescence and progressive outlook to woo the youth.
The ploy succeeded. SP got a majority on its own - first time in its history - by winning 224 out of total 403 seats.
But sniping began even before polling ended. Mulayam decided to prop up his son as chief minister and started sounding senior party officials by posing leading queries like - Do you think Akhilesh should be appointed CM? Or Can Akhilesh manage CM’s burden? Answers to such queries were invariably positive.
Getting wind of the elder brother’s disinclination to don the mantle, Shivpal too threw his hat into the ring. It took Mulayam and Ram Gopal a lot of pursuation and three important ministries -PWD, Irrigation and Revenue to placate Shivpal, who has considerable hold over the party organisation. Besides cheesy lines like “your ministries have more than half of the government budget, you’ll be no less than CM,” were also thrown in for good measure. That undermined Akhilesh’s authority as CM so much so that it was often said that there are five and a half CMs in UP with Akhilesh counted as half a CM.
Most decisions were taken by his father or uncles and Akhilesh asked to put his seal on them.
He never wanted Mulayam’s confidante Anita Singh as his principal secretary, yet he had to work with her for four and a half years.
With elections round the corner, Akhilesh decided to assert himself - first in the case of the QED’s merger with SP, and then with bureaucratic postings.
Shivpal had cemented the deal to check any split in the Muslim vote bank in the area of influence of QED’s founder Mukhtar Ansari. QED has two MLAs, both Mukhtar’s relatives in UP Assembly but he has a significant presence in at least three districts – Azamgarh, Ghazipur and Mau having 20-22 Assembly seats.
Akhilesh, in an effort to polish his image, opposed the merger with a party headed by a “criminal”. Shivpal’s argument that QED had merged with SP sans Mukhtar failed to cut any ice with Akhilesh, who seemed unaffected by the fact that the merger had his father’s sanction. In the meantime, Shivpal lobbied hard with Mulayam not only to get Amar Singh into the party
but also in the Rajya Sabha for a full term of six years.
This started the first showdown in the family. Irked that despite being the state president he had no say in party matters, Akhilesh retaliated by dropping Mulayam’s confidante Balram Yadav from his cabinet. After all who remains in his cabinet is the chief minister’s prerogative. Balram, associated with Mulayam for 30-32 years, was so upset he was in tears before the media. Mulayam brokered peace by annulling the QED’s merger and getting Balram re-inducted into the cabinet. But the last rankled with the chief minister.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was Mulayam’s diatribe on August 15 when, in the presence of hundreds of party workers, he chided Akhilesh for ‘disobeying’ them.
“You angered Shivpal. Do you realize the consequences? Shivpal has built the party from scratch. What will happen if he leaves the party? Half the party workers will go with him. You didn’t listen to me either. Remaining half will come with me. How will you run the government or contest elections?”
Akhilesh was livid. yet he had to bow before his father-uncle duo in the case of Deepak Singhal’s appointment as chief secretary despite him facing several corruption charges. Akhilesh tried to circumvent it by appointing Singhal’s predecessor Alok Ranjan as Advisor to Chief Miniser. This ensured Ranjan continued to have precedence over Singhal (who enjoyed the confidence of Shivpal, Mulayam and Amar Singh).
Another character in this sordid drama is Gayatri Prasad Prajapati, a first time Samajwadi MLA who defeated Amita Singh, second wife of the erstwhile Raja of Amethi, Sanjay Singh, despite Priyanka Gandhi’s support. A highly ambitious person Gayatri wanted to catch the fast lane to success. Appointed Minister of State in the Department of Mines, Prajapati found out that Mulayam’s second son Pratik did not have any proper business. He is learnt to have persuaded Mulayam and his second wife Sadhna Gupta of an assured income and a secure future for Pratik. Sadhna too was worried about Pratik’s future. She was wary, rather spiteful of Akhilesh, who was “hogging the limelight, had the entire party in his pocket, had become chief minister and amassed huge wealth”. In comparison, Pratik was a pauper. She gave the go ahead of course with Mulayam and Shivpal’s consent.
Fake firms were formed, fake credentials created and mining contracts given. Money started flowing to Prajapati and Pratik. A share was being given to Shivpal as well. It was due to Mulayam and Shivpal’s patronage that Prajapati, despite serious corruption charges and probe reports against him, continued to grow in stature in every Cabinet reshuffle. Beginning as a junior minister and then getting Cabinet rank.
Akhilesh knew he couldn’t move against Prajapati given the stand of his father and Shivpal chacha, but he was aware that Prajapati was the soft underbelly who could be struck anytime.
Akhilesh also knew of former MCI chief Ketan Desai’s proximity to both his father and BJP chief Amit Shah. MCI was dubbed the most corrupt organization by the Supreme Court of India, when Desai was at the helm of its affairs. Yet, he continued to enjoy access in most high offices including the PMO.
But what bothered Akhilesh the most was his association with Mulayam. Desai would often spend long hours with Mulayam. He was there at Amar Singh’s party thrown to celebrate Zee chairman Subhash Chandra’s election to the Rajya Sabha. So too were Ketan Desai, Deepak Singhal, Mulayam and Shivpal. Akhilesh was an invitee but gave it a miss. He had made up his mind to strike.
The axe fell predictably on Prajapati and Singhal. The news was broken by Akhilesh himself, who appeared relaxed, clearly relishing the satisfaction of throwing off the burden of an entire generation from his shoulders.
“Some decisions are taken by Netaji (Mulayam), while I too have taken couple of decisions independently,” he told the media. He made it amply clear that his father had no say whatsoever in matters of Singhal and Prajapati.
Mulayam could not accept such brazen defiance from his son. He retaliated by divesting Akhilesh of state presidentship, bestowing the responsibility on Shivpal. The Crisis precipitated with Mulayam’s cousin Prof Ram Gopal Yadav asserting that Akhilesh was not even informed before being divested of party responsibility. Shivpal, his wife and son resigned from all party positions. Akhilesh blamed Amar Singh for misleading his father.
Peace was brokered once again by Mulayam but it was an uneasy one. Akhilesh returned all departments to Shivpal chacha except the most lucrative Public Works Department (PWD). Amar Singh was excommunicated from the party. Shivpal reacted by expelling the Akhilesh brigade from the party for alleged anti-party activities.
But why has the war started now? What is at stake? Does Shivpal want to become chief minister? Or does Akhilesh want to be state party chief? Actually both wanted to claim both positions leaving nothing for the other. Take all or none. With the Yadav patriarch Mulayam Singh down with multiple ailments and unlikely to be around for long, the satraps want to claim as much territory as they can and as soon as possible, preferably during Mulayam’s lifetime and ostensibly with his blessings.
The battle is not for Assembly elections 2017. The battle is for Assembly Elections 2022. Whoever wins, will control the party. Hence, he will distribute tickets, will have loyalist MLAs and thus become the chief minister.
For now Shivpal has the upper hand. He has not only appointed Akhilesh’s bete noir Amar Singh as general secretary of the party once again but also sacked eight Akhilesh loyalists from the party. They include Arvind Yadav, Sunil Yadav, Anand Bhadauria, Sanjay Lathar and Sunil Singh Yadav alias Sunil Sajan - all of them are Members of Legislative Council (MLCs).
All those expelled were Akhilesh loyalists young leaders. None of them had any corruption or criminal case. They were accused of raising slogans condemning Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal Yadav. They wanted to change the system. The status quoists showed them the door.
So who has benefitted from this war, Akhilesh or Shivpal? For the time being it appears Shivpal has the upper hand since Mulayam continues to be national president of the party and Shivpal state president. Between them they are going to control the organisation and hence ticket distribution. Shivpal has SP’s organisation, Akhilesh is the face of the party.
Akhilesh seems to be the loser but only so long as Mulayam backs Shivpal. The day Akhilesh apologises to Mulayam, the latter will back his son, Akhilesh will come up trumps against Shivpal chacha.
Politics knows no relations. It begets no love only hatred and makes strange bedfellows. Here friends change with time. Foes too are not constant. Everything depends on who is in need and who can help him out - and what bargain the two can strike.
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