Akhilesh Yadav, who was elected leader of the Samajwadi Legislature Party on Saturday, was not sure of his elevation till late on Friday, for opposition came from within.
The hurdle was removed only after his father and party president Mulayam Singh won over the party's Muslim face and Rampur MLA, Mohammad Azam Khan, and his younger brother, Shivpal Singh Yadav. Significantly, the proposal to elect Mr. Akhilesh Yadav as Legislature Party leader was moved by Mr. Khan and seconded by Mr. Shivpal Yadav. And both accompanied him to Raj Bhavan.
Both Mr. Khan and Mr. Shivpal Singh were not keen on accepting Mr. Akhilesh Yadav as their leader. While the Rampur MLA said he wanted a Samajwadi Party government but without naming Mr. Akhilesh Yadav, Mr. Shivpal Singh was clear that Mr. Mulayam Singh should be the Chief Minister. The other senior leaders such as Mata Prasad Pandey, Avdhesh Prasad and Brahma Shankar Tripathi too favoured Mr. Mulayam Singh, even as the young generation backed Mr. Akhilesh Yadav. But Mr. Khan and Mr. Shivpal Singh mattered most to Mr. Mulayam Singh — in the party and the Yadav clan respectively.
Mr. Mulayam Singh can ill-afford to alienate Mr. Khan, given that he has defeated his nearest Congress rival by more than 60,000 votes and that the Muslims have overwhelmingly voted for the party.
The deal is understood to have been clinched at a late-night meeting at Mr. Mulayam Singh's Vikramaditya Marg residence on Friday. Besides Mr. Mulayam Singh, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav, Mr. Khan, Mr. Shivpal Singh and general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav were present.
Incidentally, the Rampur MLA was in Lucknow on Friday, but never visited the party office. Only after Mr. Mulayam Singh called Mr. Khan to his residence for the meeting, did he go to meet him, sources said. His absence from the parliamentary board meeting on Wednesday gave rise to speculation that he had not reconciled himself to the idea of Mr. Akhilesh Yadav becoming the Chief Minister.
At Friday night's meeting, when Mr. Mulayam Singh broached the subject of making Mr. Akhilesh Yadav leader of the Legislature Party, the Rampur MLA is understood to have replied that he (Mr. Khan) was one of the founders of the party, and it would be better if Mr. Mulayam Singh became the Chief Minister, sources said. But Mr. Khan eventually agreed, given the strong bonding between him and Mr. Mulayam Singh.
Sources said Mr. Shivpal Singh was told to shed his reservations about the younger Yadav. Mr. Mulayam Singh suggested the way out, offering the post of Vidhan Sabha Speaker to Mr. Khan so that he could be out of the Cabinet. There has been no official confirmation, but sources said the proposal was rejected by the Rampur MLA.
When the Legislature Party meeting was under way, it was rumoured that Mr. Shivpal Singh would contest the Lok Sabha by-election from Kannauj, which would be vacated by Mr. Akhilesh Yadav.
Asked at a press conference on Saturday whether Mr. Azam Khan and Mr. Shivpal Yadav would be inducted in the Cabinet, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav gave an ambiguous reply: “Why will they not be in the Ministry,” he asked.
With Mr. Akhilesh Yadav set to become the Chief Minister on March 15, talk in the party circles centred on the names of possible Ministers and important officials. Since the Muslims played a crucial role in the Samajwadi Party getting an absolute majority, it is said a Muslim officer on deputation to the Centre will be given an important administrative position. A former Lucknow SSP, considered close to Mr. Mulayam Singh, has been going the rounds of the party office. A suspended former vice-chairman of the Lucknow Development Authority was seen hanging around the closed gates of the party headquarters on Saturday. Now retired, he was among the first batch of officials to be suspended by Mayawati in 2007.
Meanwhile, the Mayawati government has revoked the suspension of IAS officers Rakesh Bahadur and Sanjeev Saran. They were suspended in the wake of the alleged Noida land scam that occurred during the previous Samajwadi Party rule.