The spat between Samajwadi Party head honcho Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh started off as a real tragedy but has currently played out into a total farce. How that will affect their fortunes in the upcoming Assembly elections remains to be seen.
The fault lines were laid when Akhilesh was made CM in 2012 but in 2017 the split is totally wide open. A look at some of the reasons why all this has happened…
1. Mulayam’s Mission 2014 failed: In 2009, the Congress looked good to sweep 2014 with the BJP looking totally down. But the 2010 CWG scam hit them hard and the 2011 August Kranti agitation knocked them down.
It soon became clear that the Congress would be booted out in 2014 and everyone started nursing Prime Ministerial ambitions. At that time the media, liberals and intellectuals convinced the regional leaders that the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi would never be PM and so they started making their plans on the basis of that.
That’s when Mulayam came out with a brilliant plan that could have been called…
Yadav (Akhilesh) for CM and Yadav for (Mulayam) PM.
Akhilesh was made the CM candidate and did his famous state-wide cycle rally and in 2012 defied all the pollsters and stormed to power. The old guard didn’t like Akhilesh’s elevation at all, but kept quiet for the sake of Mission 2014.
When there was talk of Modi’s elevation within the BJP, one pollster talked of the BJP getting just 160 seats! Mulayam probably reckoned that even if he got a good 60-65 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, he would offer support for a “secular” Third Front only if he was made PM. All the regional allies would fall in line to keep the “communal” Modi out.
However Mulayam got an abysmal 5 Lok Sabha seats, just one more than the upstart Arvind Kejriwal! Mulayam’s ambitions at the Centre were in tatters and the old guard looked inward to Uttar Pradesh again. The knives came out to topple the Akhilesh regime.
The rift was there in 2012, but it became much wider in 2014. A full-fledged split has finally taken place at the very beginning of 2017.
2. Akhilesh has been a disaster: While the Congress was wiped out, most regional leaders like the late Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik and KC Rao still managed to hold their forts. The reason that Akhilesh was wiped out is because he has been a colossal disaster as CM.
He has had brilliant marketing and PR and fantastic media management. Akhilesh has been announcing a host of schemes, but nothing has translated at the ground level. UP remains to be a BIMARU state and the decline that accelerated in the 1990s wasn’t checked.
To make matters worse the law and order actually broke down. That way his predecessor Mayawati was much better. Communal riots and Dadri were a blot on his career and he got away only because Modi Haters blamed Modi despite law and order being a state issue.
But you can’t fool the people who were going through those riots. Akhilesh proved to be a young, fresh, charismatic but totally useless and ineffective leader in the end. That’s why he was wiped out in 2014 and that is why there is such panic in the party in 2017 and SP leaders are desperately trying to divert the issue of total lack of governance and development.
That is why there’s a conspiracy theory doing the rounds claiming that father-son duo have engineered the whole drama so that now everyone is talking of the split rather than the governance skills of Akhilesh.
3. The importance of being Amar Singh: Mulayam has been a stalwart in UP for decades now. He has either been in power or a strong opposition figure. However Mulayam is pretty awkward at the Centre and hasn’t been a great negotiator.
For national politics, networking and strategizing, Mulayam has relied solely on one person. That is Amar Singh. While he has many state-level right hands, at the national level there is only Amar Singh.
In fact Amar Singh’s name came up in the recent US Presidential elections when the New York Times talked of him giving a donation of $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. His name also features in the WikiLeaks documents. How’s that for international networking?
But there’s one small catch.
Akhilesh and Amar Singh hate each other.
Mulayam thought he could do without his national Man Friday thanks to the above mentioned Mission 2014 but that was a total disaster. Mulayam has been UP CM and India Defence Minister in the past and now he desperately wants to be PM.
Again the media is misleading regional leaders by saying that Modi will lose 2019 for things like #Demonetization and again they are nursing PM ambitions and destroying themselves. Just look at Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
Mulayam has realized that Akhilesh cannot help him in his national ambitions and that’s why he got back Amar Singh at the cost of antagonizing his own son.
4. Ram Gopal versus Shivpal: The Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty has mastered the Master-Apprentice style of governance. There will only be one ruler and one heir apparent. Nehru-Indira. Indira-Sanjay. Indira-Rajiv. Sonia-Rahul.
That is a very effective strategy and shows the party who’s in charge and who’s going to take over. That’s why Rajiv stepped back when Sanjay went political and stepped back in when he died. That’s why Priyanka, despite being 44, has never a single senior official party post in her life.
In UP, there was a virtual free for all. Mulayam-Akhilesh was not the last word. There were two powerful brothers in form of Ram Gopal and Shivpal. When one chose Mulayam and the other Akhilesh, it was clear that there would be hectic lobbying and politicking and the party would be torn apart.
5. The isolation of Azam Khan: If Mulayam relies on Amar Singh for national networking and himself and his family for the Yadav vote bank, then he relies on Azam Khan strongly for the Muslim vote bank.
Azam was totally fine with Mulayam and the seniors and they had carved out UP among themselves. Akhilesh’s elevation was a disruptor and though recent reports show Azam playing the peacemaker, he is very much part of the old guard which has ganged up against Akhilesh.
6. Demonetization claims its first victim: It is an open secret that political parties in India do not believe in cashless societies and online money but rely only on cold hard cash. Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes power Indian elections like nothing else.
With the November 8 #Demonetization, the whole sourcing, funding and distribution of election funding has been thrown into disarray. There is confusion among political parties in India and when you are going through a crisis, another one like this one can well push you off the cliff.
7. Akhilesh was facing too much pressure since 2012 itself: Of course the last straw was Akhilesh deciding that he had had enough. Even though he took charge in 2012 after a very successful campaign, he has been facing a lot of flak in the last four years.
All the senior leaders have been attacking him and there have been many sackings to settle scores. Akhilesh’s frustration has been steadily piling up and he had to say that enough was enough was one of these days. That finally happened in 2016 thanks to the above mentioned factors.
There’s not much time before the Assembly elections and even if the two factions make a temporary truce, the strong fault lines will remain and the damage has already been done.
Read More:All dynasties rise and fall with the Nehru-Gandhi dynastyModi’s Pak Panchsheel: A peace offensiveModi’s Pak Panchsheel: A peace offensive
The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here