Bloodshed in the House of Mulayam

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Is the son losing the generational war in Lucknow—at least for the time being

On 12 September, Ram Gopal Yadav, Samajwadi Party general secretary and senior leader, was still asleep when he received a call from party president Mulayam Singh Yadav at 6 am. On the other side, a furious Mulayam told Ram Gopal to get Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Deepak Singhal sacked in 15 minutes. Rattled, Ram Gopal called Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, only to learn that Mulayam had already called him. Akhilesh then asked officials to issue the order for Singhal’s removal and appointed Rahul Bhatnagar, the principal secretary, finance, as the new chief secretary. He had also just sacked two ministers, Gayatri Prajapati and Rajkishor Singh, who face corruption charges. As these tremors rippled through the extended

Yadav family, it became apparent that a disaster was imminent.

At the centre of the storm is Amar Singh, who returned to the party after six years and bagged a Rajya Sabha seat in May this year. On the evening of 11 September, things had seemed normal as senior SP leaders gathered at Delhi hotel Maurya Sheraton’s Kamal Mahal hall, where Amar Singh was hosting a dinner party in honour of his friend, Rajya Sabha MP Subhash Chandra. Mulayam was present with his brother, UP Cabinet minister Shivpal Yadav. Minister Gayatri Prajapati and Chief Secretary Deepak Singhal, too, featured on the guest list. But the tide turned quickly, with Amar Singh warning Mulayam of corruption charges against Prajapati. The latter was summarily removed, but he made sure his wasn’t the only head to roll. When he told Mulayam that Singhal was the one turning other party leaders against him, Mulayam decided he had to go too. Singhal is considered close to Shivpal Yadav and Amar Singh and hence there was fierce lobbying to reinstate him. Predictably, Mulayam changed his mind the next day, and asked his son Akhilesh to reverse the action taken against both ministers and the secretary. Akhilesh knew better than to argue, but this episode had widened the chasm between his supporters and Mulayam’s.

The first sign of unrest appeared in June when Akhilesh strongly opposed the Samajwadi Party’s merger with Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal and forced Mulayam onto the backfoot over the issue

What happened next was pure theatre. On 13 September, Mulayam removed a defiant Akhilesh as state party president and replaced him with Shivpal Yadav, to which Akhilesh retaliated by stripping Shivpal Yadav of all-important cabinet portfolios. The political drama reached its crescendo in the next few days. Supporters of Shivpal Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav took to the streets to show their allegiance to the respective leaders. Finally, it was Mulayam who prevailed. With him throwing his weight behind Shivpal and Amar Singh, the former got back all his portfolios and was additionally made the party state president. Amar Singh has been appointed the national general secretary of the party and he will play an important role in the upcoming Assembly polls. Akhilesh, on the other hand, has been left sulking.

Ever since he took charge in March 2012, there has rarely been an occasion when Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has shown his mettle in fighting corruption and ensuring law and order in India’s most populous state. UP’s youngest Chief Minister, many say, has had to work under pressure from his father and family all along. “He was never allowed to function independently,” says Sunil Singh Yadav, a party MLC expelled from the party by Shivpal on 19 September, who is considered close to Akhilesh. “He has great ideas and vision, but the elders in the party don’t recognise his efforts,” Sunil says.

Recently, Mulayam openly said that he should not have made Akhilesh the Chief Minister before the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 and that the party has suffered under him. This is Mulayam’s pet peeve

The first posting to Akhilesh’s secretariat was that of 1990-batch IAS officer Anita Singh as secretary to the Chief Minister. She had served as secretary to Mulayam when he held UP’s top post and her appointment under Akhilesh meant that Mulayam would have eyes and ears in the Chief Minister’s office. She wielded such enormous power over the government that Akhilesh was not happy with it. Whoever calls or visits 5 Kalidas Marg, the official residence of Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow, does so under the watchful gaze of Anita Singh, now principal secretary to the Chief Minister. “I have stopped calling on the landline of the CM’s residence,” says a senior party leader from the Yadav family. “There are spies who interpret it in a different way to Netaji [Mulayam].”

Akhilesh did not fully agree with his father’s choices from the start. He had reservations about certain ministers because of their criminal background, but Mulayam had his say in the formation of the cabinet. Take Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya, who was forced to resign after his name cropped up for the murder of a cop. In October 2013, he was, however, cleared by the CBI and Mulayam ordered Akhilesh to reinstate him. In October 2012, Akhilesh sacked Vinod Kumar alias Pandit Singh, a cabinet minister who was accused of beating up and abducting the Chief Medical Officer of Gonda. But in the second cabinet expansion in February next year, he was reinstated at the behest of Mulayam Singh. There are others like Balram Yadav and Gayatri Prajapati who continue to be in the UP cabinet despite Akhilesh’s displeasure over their work and attitude. Ram Gopal Yadav says all this has been done to destabilise Akhilesh. “There is a section in the party that wants to present the picture that Akhilesh is ineffective as CM. They may have their own ambitions, but in the end, it weakens the party. The goodwill created by all his great initiatives gets diluted by these tainted people.”

Soon after getting back all his portfolios and replacing Akhilesh Yadav as state party president, Shivpal Yadav, in a show of strength, sacked seven youth leaders who were close to the Chief Minister

Till the time Akhilesh was ready to bend, all was going smooth for the party. But, of late, he had started asserting himself and even ignoring suggestions made by Mulayam. The first sign of the current unrest appeared in June, when Akhilesh strongly opposed the SP’s merger with Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal (QED). The merger was initiated and cleared by Mulayam himself and was left for Shivpal to execute. But strong opposition by Akhilesh, Ram Gopal Yadav and Azam Khan forced Mulayam to retreat. It was something of a shock for a man who had long towered over the party. Apart from this, Mulayam was also not happy with Akhilesh according importance to bureaucrats who were powerful under Mayawati’s regime and had even tried to break up the SP, in his view. Senior IAS officer Navneet Sehgal was the second most powerful officer of the state when Mayawati was Chief Minister. When Akhilesh came to power, Sehgal was shifted to relatively insignificant departments. But in February 2014, without Mulayam’s go-ahead, Akhilesh inducted Sehgal in his team as principal secretary, Information, handing him the task of an image makeover of the government. Sehgal still holds the charge along with some other important departments. Over time, Akhilesh has grown close to his uncle Ram Gopal Yadav and cabinet minister Azam Khan. When Mulayam recently sent Ram Gopal Yadav to mediate between Shivpal and Akhilesh, instead of brokering peace, Ram Gopal aggravated the situation by openly backing Akhilesh’s point of view. The second trigger came on 5 September in Ghaziabad, where Akhilesh and Azam had gone to inaugurate Hajj House. No other senior SP leader was invited to this event, which was seen as an effort to woo Muslim voters in western UP. On top of that, for the first time, there were no posters of Mulayam Singh anywhere at the venue. This was something his supporters could not digest. Some party workers, including the SP MLC Ashu Malik, did protest, but could not do much.

Mulayam himself was surprised at the turn of events after that. On 14 September, some of the party’s youth leaders held a brazen protest outside his residence in Lucknow, shouting slogans against him, even trying to breach a barricade to enter the house. Such open defiance of his authority was not acceptable to the leader who had built the party, and he apparently decided to take control of the situation before it got any worse.

“Mulayam is a leader who has always fought on his own terms,” says a senior SP leader. “He has never accepted terms laid down by others and won’t do so now, even if it is his son.” Besides, he has a strong grip on the organisation that Akhilesh lacks. On 13 September, when Akhilesh stripped Shivpal of all his important portfolios, it transpires, no one else in the SP was ready to take charge of these in fear of upsetting Mulayam. In the end, Akhilesh had to keep these ministries with himself.

Amar Singh and Shivpal Yadav have emerged as the new power centres. Singh, who the SP had expelled in 2010, is back in top form. By his own admission, he is “not a Samajwadi but a Mulayamwadi

Apart from being constantly monitored by the Yadav family, Akhilesh has had to endure Mulayam’s public criticism of his tenure in office. In a recent address, for instance, Mulayam openly said that he should not have made Akhilesh the Chief Minister before the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 and that the party has suffered under him. This appears to be Mulayam’s pet peeve. On 15 August this year, after the flag-hoisting ceremony at the party office, 19 Vikramaditya Marg, Mulayam yelled at his son in public. Although Akhilesh insists this is usual father-son banter, some party leaders think it shows him up as a weak leader who doesn’t know how to run the state. “There are certain things that should remain behind the screens. If the Chief Minister of the state is publicly humiliated, it impacts the morale of the cadre who see him as an emerging leader,” says a senior SP leader.

Akhilesh’s supporters say they stand by him. “Netaji is our ideal, but our leader is Akhilesh,” says Sunil Singh Yadav. “The leadership has shifted to a new generation. It is this that’s creating problems with party seniors.”

The Akhilesh government’s claimed achievements, too, are under question. Other than a few ambitious road projects, Akhilesh has mostly relied on populist measures and freebie schemes that once cemented his father’s position in UP politics. From distributing laptops to giving unemployment allowances and offering free rations to drought-affected families, everything was launched with a lot of noise, but fell flat because of poor execution and the high bills for these schemes. Just a fortnight ago, the UP cabinet cleared the Samajwadi Smartphone Scheme, under which every adult who has passed Class X would be given a free smartphone.

Ever since he took charge in March 2012, there has rarely been an occasion when Akhilesh Yadav has shown his mettle. UP’s youngest CM, many say, has been working under pressure from his father and family

The Chief Minister’s detractors aren’t about to turn off the heat anytime soon. Party insiders say that Shivpal Yadav and the new General Secretary Amar Singh have already emerged as key power centres. Singh, who was expelled from the SP in 2010, spent six years in the political wilderness but he played his cards with care. By his own admission, he is “not a Samajwadi but a Mulayam wadi”. Eight months after the formation of the SP government in UP, an Economic Offences Wing enquiry against his 55 illegal companies was wrapped up by the Kanpur Police in just five days and a closure report filed. But this was a small favour compared to what was to come. In August 2014, in Lucknow for the inauguration of Janeshwar Mishra Park, Mulayam and Amar Singh left together for Delhi. Singh’s Rajya Sabha term was coming to an end in October that year, and he had a long meeting with Mulayam at his residence. Mulayam tried to push for his candidacy, but it was strongly opposed by Akhilesh, Ram Gopal and Azam Khan. It is believed that Mulayam promised Amar Singh a route back to the Rajya Sabha at a later stage. Now that he has fulfilled his promise, Singh has again found a place in Mulayam’s coterie. And with him back as an MP, his favourite officers have started approaching him for lucrative postings. When Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan retired in June this year, Akhilesh wanted to appoint Pravir Kumar, the then agriculture secretary, in his place. But Deepak Singhal won the post with strong backing from Amar Singh and Shivpal Yadav.

“He has nothing to do with the Samajwadi Party. He is a selfish man with his own motives and interests,” says Ram Gopal Yadav of Amar Singh. “He is just using the innocence of Netaji for his own benefit. Why is he moving around with a BJP-supported MP?”

Mulayam and his friends, however, are far from tired of Amar Singh’s company. “He is a well-wisher of the family and has worked hard for the party,” says Shivpal Yadav. “Why would he harm someone he was always fond of?”

While the feud within the Yadav clan is far from over, Akhilesh is the clear loser so far, judging by the outcome of recent events. Just after the 2012 poll win, he was touted as a ‘next generation leader’ who would take the party to new heights. But Akhilesh failed to bridge the old and new leadership.

Soon after taking charge as state party president, Shivpal, in a show of strength, sacked seven youth leaders who were close to Akhilesh. Arvind Yadav, nephew of Ram Gopal Yadav, was among those kicked out. On 20 September, at the state cabinet meeting, Akhilesh seemed defeated as he identified himself as “an obedient son” and said he would do anything to make his father happy. He has cancelled his planned rath yatra as elections approach, and now Mulayam will lead the party’s campaign. The old order—or disorder—is back in Uttar Pradesh for now, but will the polls, just months away, bring a new dawn?