Power is a dangerous enemy. But as a friend it is probably worse for it can tear asunder close ties and bury time honoured beliefs. As his less than a year old government hits road bump after road bump, this is one unwelcome lesson that Akhilesh Yadav must be learning as whispers about the widening chasms within his family grow.
The latest example was served a few days back when his uncle Shivpal Yadav, Minister for Irrigation, Flood Control, Cooperatives and Public Works, largely regarded as the number two in the government, said that he was no party heavyweight. While Shivpal is not exactly known for his elegant use of words, elder brother and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is also snapping at his son’s government, having made vocal his displeasure with the functioning of the ministers, fuelling gossip about a growing distance between father and son.
Juhie Singh, the party’s state secretary, traces that speculation to a natural difference between the party organisation and the government. “During the elections, party leaders and workers saw Akhilesh as one of them. The sudden transition to CM is perhaps something they were not prepared for. They cannot make the distinction between his two roles. Hence, small lapses get magnified and much anger against the government is vented at party meetings. Netaji can see both sides and acts as the buffer,” she says.
Mulayam’s periodic critique of the government might be serving another purpose: it helps keep intact in the public mind the distinction between the party and the government such that the failings of the government do not reflect on the party while its achievements can be claimed as its own in the next Lok Sabha elections. Finger pointing at slow implementation of schemes for instance could be blamed at inadequate support from the Centre bolstering the party’s bid for a larger role on the national stage.
Arvind Singh Gope, Minister for Rural Development and the CMs senior by just a couple of years, says that the rifts and heartaches are being imagined by people who do not know the family well enough. “This is one of the most close-knit and well-behaved political families of India. There is immense respect for each other. The CM has a free hand to function and when he turns to the elders for advice, it is not a sign of subversion.”
Gope illustrates with the example of Shivpal’s earlier mentioned statement that had he been a political heavyweight, he would have been the chief minister.
“It was a light-hearted quip to dissuade a reporter who was pressing for the inclusion of a local MLA in the council of ministers. Shivpal laughed it off and said that appointing ministers was the CM’s prerogative, not his. The media however clung to only part of the statement, ignoring the context and tone,” emphasises Gope, who was present during the exchange.
Among the party’s fresh faces, which became one of its drawing powers during the Assembly elections, there is however the growing belief that the young CM has been deliberately hampered. “He is an energetic man with fresh ideas, surrounded by an obsolete team. This is not what we had hoped for,” says a first time MLA who admits to a growing frustration. More than one party insider insists that even if speculation about a growing chasm between father and son is unfounded, there is definitely substance to the conjecture that Shivpal is growing more disgruntled and can become a liability.
“The 2009 elections were guided by Amar Singh. In 2014, Ram Gopal Yadav (Mulayam’s cousin and party MP from Sambhal) will be the party strategist. This has resulted in a growing resentment in Shivpal,” insists a party old timer from the Yadav bastion of Etawah.
The last year has been littered with clues of Shivpal’s unhappiness. For instance, in August last year when the CM threw open the Yamuna Expressway, Shivpal who heads the public works department and had even been arrested during the course of demanding better compensation for farmers during the previous government, was miffed at not being in the picture.
The sacking of the party’s national spokesperson Mohan Singh last January in the run-up to the 2012 elections was seen as an indirect attack on Shivpal, who was in favour of the return of muscleman DP Yadav (staunchly opposed by Akhilesh). Later, when a decision was taken that only select senior leaders would talk to the media, Shivpal’s name did not figure.
Shivpal also held out till the very end when Mulayam proposed Akhilesh’s name as CM – a post he had hoped would come to him as the elder brother lay claim to a larger role in national politics. Even the dream of an enhanced role as guide to the new CM was undone when Ram Gopal forced himself into the role and started to have a big say in the functioning of the state government, limiting Shivpal’s power to his portfolio alone.
Also while Ram Gopal’s son Akshay has been given the party ticket to contest from the Farukhabad Lok Sabha seat (once held by Akhilesh), Shivpal’s son Aditya, who lost the zila panchayat elections in 2010, has been advised to work his way up and not depend on the family name.
Satyendra Upadhyay, the party’s state secretary, does not entirely dismiss suggestions of family squabbles but is firm in his denial of their expression. “Never within a party meeting has there been any hint of family trouble. The elders will carry forth the CM on their experience as he gains in confidence. It might take some time but it will happen,” he says.
Shailendra Yadav, the party’s 47-year-old MLA from Shahganj who describes himself as “the middle generation”, believes that what is being projected as the incompetence of the state government and what in turn leads the party organisation to be critical of it, is caused by lapses of the administrative machinery. “Every party worker wishes that his work should be done when his party is in power. But people in the administration have lost their way. So used were they to the abuses of the previous regime that they do not understand our polite way of working. But slowly the machinery is coming back on track.”
Amidst these disruptions, another front has opened up with a growing demand from Azamgarh to field Mulayam’s younger son Prateek. While the son in question is yet to display political ambition, senior level bureaucrats have many stories to share about his mother (Mulayam’s second wife) Sadhna Gupta’s interference in transfer postings.
Havaldar Yadav, president of Azamgarh’s district party unit, dismisses as “inconsequential” those who are raising the demand. “We are a democratic party and everyone has the freedom of opinion. The party organisation has nothing to do with this. Some people are creating mischief and looking for publicity”, he says.
In the turbulence of UP politics, there are no promises that such mischief will not turn to trouble. With 2014 just a political heartbeat away, neither Mulayam nor Akhilesh can afford that to happen. For no measure of power can slay the enemy within.