Around this time five years ago, when Akhilesh Yadav overcame an acrimonious family feud and seized the reins of the Samajwadi Party (SP) as well as its symbol, ‘cycle’, from his father Mulayam Singh, a flashy blue Lamborghini made heads turn in Lucknow. The luxury car served as a tool for the BJP to underscore the apparent disparity between the SP’s claims of espousing grassroots socialism and the lavish lifestyle of members of the ruling Yadav family.
Prateek Yadav, Mr. Akhilesh’s step-brother, owned the car, which had then become the subject of a 125-second video clip released by the BJP, themed, ‘ Paanch crore ki Lamborghini par sawaar Samajwaad’ (’Socialism on a ₹5 crore Lamborghini’). Not directly involved in politics, Mr. Prateek is a real estate entrepreneur and a body-building enthusiast, who runs a high-end gym in Lucknow, which was in 2015 inaugurated by Mr. Mulayam, himself a wrestler in his youth. On January 19, Mr. Prateek’s wife, Aparna Bisht Yadav, joined the BJP.
The Lamborghini episode was not the only time when Ms. Aparna and her husband put the SP in an awkward situation. Be it posing for a selfie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi or praising his policies and expressing views divergent to the SP’s ideological line, such as opposing caste-based reservation, Mr. Prateek and Ms. Aparna had made news in the past. So, when Ms. Aparna, a Kshatriya by birth, was inducted into the BJP, SP workers joined BJP workers in the celebration. “Na vote hai na jaat. (She has neither a mass base nor the caste base). It was wrong of her to use family pressure for an election ticket,” said an SP office-bearer from Etawah, the family bastion of the SP.
The BJP, which successfully used the ‘parivarvad’ charge to put the SP on the backfoot, came to power in 2017 after overthrowing Mr. Akhilesh, who, despite having a majority government, was bruised by a long-drawn family battle involving himself, his father and uncle Shivpal Yadav.
Much has changed in the way the Yadav family has projected itself over the past five years, partly due to a strategic rearrangement and partly forced by circumstances (electoral defeats of the party as well as of individual family members). Amar Singh, Mulayam’s long-time acquaintance whom Mr. Akhilesh had accused of fuelling the tension within the Yadav family at the BJP’s behest, died in 2020.
Ms. Aparna’s exit notwithstanding, the Yadav family today looks like a much more cohesive unit, with little drama or differences flowing into public space. With Mr. Akhilesh taking over as the new supremo of the party, other members of the family have taken a step back from the media glare and the party stage in Lucknow, even though they remain active in politics.
On January 22, Pramod Gupta, the brother of Mulayam’s second wife Sadhna Gupta, Mr. Prateek’s mother, also joined the BJP, which is trying to re-ignite memories of the Yadav family battle to dent Mr. Akhilesh’s narrative. But in sharp contrast to 2016-17, Mr. Akhilesh could afford to make light of it. “The BJP should be happy about this. It accuses us of parivarvad , at least they are finishing off our parivarvad . For this, I thank them,” he recently said, with a chuckle.
Ill-health and age have gradually reduced the 82-year-old patriarch Mr. Mulayam’s participation in politics. But on rare occasions, the former CM makes an appearance, leaving a mark. Recently, donning the red party cap, he produced a cheeky moment when he told party workers how much the BJP’s top brass were “troubled” by the headgear.
Mr. Akhilesh was born to Mulayam and Malti Devi in 1973. She died in 2003. He is an engineer by qualification and studied in Mysore. He went to the Military School in Dholpur, something he flaunts even today to take on the BJP’s nationalism narrative. He is married to Dimple Yadav, daughter of a retired Army officer who hails from Uttarakhand and graduated in commerce from Lucknow University. The couple have two daughters and one son — Aditi and twins Tina and Arjun. In 2009, Ms. Dimple unsuccessfully contested the byelection to the Lok Sabha from Firozabad against actor-turned-politician Raj Babbar. She was elected unopposed in the 2012 bypoll after Mr. Akhilesh vacated the seat to take over as the youngest Chief Minister of U.P.
In 2014, Ms. Dimple was one of the five SP candidates who won; all four were family members. Mr. Mulayam had contested from two seats. But in 2019, while Mr. Akhilesh won in Azamgarh, she lost her seat, Kannauj, an SP bastion. As Akhilesh was caught with the family feud, in 2017, the demure elder bahu of the Yadav clan, Ms. Dimple, stepped in to support her husband. She addressed rallies, worked on her oratory skills, tried to win over women voters and offered digital media and backroom support, something she still does.
When the SP was in power, Ms. Dimple was also active in policy formation, especially in issues related to women’s health and nutrition. During the COVID-19 migrant crisis in May 2020, away from the media lens, she distributed food and medicine packets among migrant workers who were struggling to return to their native places, recall party workers, who fondly call her ‘Dimple Bhabi’.
Mr. Akhilesh’s cousins Dharmendra and Akshay Yadavs are also active in politics. Mr. Dharmendra, the son of Mulayam’s younger brother Abhay Ram, who maintains a rural life in Saifai, their ancestral village, is a graduate from Allahabad University. The three-time MP who is known for raising issues related to ‘social justice’ and street activism, lost the 2019 election from Budaun. Mr. Dharmendra’s elder brother Anurag Yadav contested the 2017 Assembly election from Sarojini Nagar in Lucknow, but lost.
Mr. Akshay is the son of Ramgopal Yadav, Mr. Mulayam’s cousin who is the party national general secretary and Rajya Sabha member. He lost the 2019 election from Firozabad. Though Mr. Ramgopal is not a mass leader, he is considered powerful in decision-making and party management in Delhi. He had backed Mr. Akhilesh during the feud with Shivpal Yadav and helped him gain control of the party.
End of feud
After a prolonged cold war between them, which threatened to derail the SP’s 2022 campaign, Mr. Akhilesh and uncle Shivpal have finally forged political unity. By bringing Mr. Shivpal on board amicably, Mr. Akhilesh has, for now, ensured peace and demonstrated a united Yadav face.
With Mr. Akhilesh providing a platform for OBC and Dalit leaders who joined the SP, as well as his alliances with backward caste parties, he has managed to shift the attention from the family and its previously Yadav-heavy leadership, to pressing political issues, party members opine.
According to Rajendra Chaudhary, an SP spokesperson and old-time Mulayam loyalist, the BJP was trying to raise “non-issues” by targeting Mr. Akhilesh over his family. The family members as well as the people of U.P. look at him as a “capable leader” in whose hands the future of U.P. will be safe, he added. “He [Akhilesh] had already given the slogan, ‘Bado ka haath, Yuva ka saath’ (’Blessings of elders, support of the youth’). He respects all.” After working under the shadow of his father and uncles in 2012 and 2014, allying with Rahul Gandhi’s Congress in 2017 and tying up with Mayawati, who dominated the equation, in 2019, this time, Mr. Akhilesh is on his own. This assembly election is truly the first one in his career, where the Yadav scion has emerged as the undisputed commander of the clan and the leader of the ‘socialist’ party.