Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Making sense of the political stampede in Uttar Pradesh

Ratnakar Tripathy

Akhilesh Yadav: all smiles does not work in politics!
Despite the CM Akhilesh Yadav’s assurance that all is well in the Samajwadi Party, anyone following the events in UP the last few days will shake his head and wonder, and perhaps wait for another roller coaster of events.  Although comparisons are often made between the Laloo clan in Bihar and the Mulayam clan in UP, the fact is the reigning Yadav clan in UP has shown itself to be an unwieldy one. Whereas Laloo was compelled by the unruly conduct of his brother in laws in Bihar to expel and neutralize them, Mulayam’s brood of the powerful in UP seems to be getting bigger and it now turns out rather unwieldy as well. Laloo’s family, despite the large number of children is more akin to a small nuclear family populated by relatively meek sisters and brothers. Mulayam’s family photograph would need a much more capacious frame. The point however is whether this large frame is now on the brink of being snipped to a manageable size since the very survival of the party depends on it.

In the past few days, the battle between Akhilesh and his uncle Shivpal Yadav has taken several turns. In the first phase Shivpal’s seemed the dominant faction with tacit blessing from Netaji as the SP Mulayam Yadav supremo is called. The trouble started when Akhilesh lost the post of the party president to Shivpal Yadav who in turn was deprived by Akhilesh of all his important cabinet portfolios. Apparently, a delicate balance between the uncle-nephew duo was upset and a turmoil set in. After Mulayam’s intervention however peace seems to have been restored with Akhilesh going back to status quo and restoring his uncle’s portfolios almost within the course of the day. Many newspaper columnists of course came to the hasty conclusion that Akhilesh has definitely emerged as the winner.  But only insiders had an idea of what was brewing behind the scenes and exactly why the uncle wants to upset the applecart so close to the UP Assembly elections in 2017.  Now the picture is largely clear – Shivpal was not acting as a blundering conspirer at all and behind all the disarray lay a very clear cut scheme. The scheme was to bypass Akhilesh and appoint the well-known Amar Singh as the General Secretary of the party at the national level. It is clear that Mulayam needs a fixer of the caliber of Amar Singh whose fixing prowess is widely acknowledged in the realms of politics, business and the film industry with a number of channels of behind the scenes communication with almost the entire gamut of political parties that matter in UP. Akhilesh is known to loathe Amar Singh and represents a clean SP without the usual dross that characterize party politics in UP. We thus have in front of us a vivid display of an enormous generational gulf between Mulayam, a clannish ex-wrestler and often an unscrupulous manipulator and Akhilesh, a young developmentalist and something of an idealist more akin to Nitish Kumar than any other politician in the region. But the fact is Akhilesh will find it difficult to unburden himself of his uncles and other millstones from the past.  

Throughout his first stint as the state CM, Akhilesh found his development agenda impeded not just by his uncles and cousins but also by a number of prominent members from his father’s durbar. The interesting part is that Mulayam the father and Mulayam the politician do not always sync. In a very telling photograph that went viral on the social media for its strong visual message, Akhilesh is seen in an angry outburst in front of his father in public with Mulayam glaring back at him in equally heady rage.  Even if they remain a happy family, the raw tension between the son and the father could well be the best summary for this ongoing political tale. Clearly, Amar Singh, the uber cool fixer is likely to have many a fidgety moments in the presence of Akhilesh right till the assembly elections in 2017.  Akhilesh’s dream of transforming the very core of the SP milieu must wait in abeyance for a long time to come when natural aging and superannuation of the older order may bring him the support he needs.         

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