Akhilesh Yadav’s tussle with his “uncles” has been a >consistent feature of his tenure as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. But the rapid developments of this week could mark the deepest fissure in the ruling Samajwadi Party. In the span of a few hours on Tuesday, >tensions that have simmered ever since Mr. Yadav came to power in early 2012 rose to a crescendo. Mr. Yadav shifted out the State Chief Secretary, Deepak Singhal, who had been in the post for only two months, a man seen to be close to Shivpal Singh Yadav, brother of his father and SP chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav. In no time, the Chief Minister was replaced by Mr. Shivpal Yadav as the party’s U.P. unit president. Thereafter, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav stripped his uncle of most of the portfolios he held in the Cabinet. There the matter now rests, with party confabulations with Mr. Mulayam Singh shifting to Delhi, and the young scion issuing statements asserting his writ as Chief Minister of U.P. How this realigns the SP’s lines of authority, and eventually shapes its campaign for the Assembly elections, depends on what gives in the family feud.
The Chief Minister and his “uncles” have made moves and counter-offensives on a crowded chessboard these past years, with Mr. Mulayam Singh keeping the ultimate command in his own hands. The Opposition, for its part, never loses the opportunity to highlight how the Chief Minister is undermined by his “uncles”, those related by blood and those who exercise authority by virtue of their long stint in the party — the allegation is that in effect the State has four-and-a-half chief ministers. The result of this tussle is that at every point of discord, it is made evident that the Chief Minister does not hold enough sway over the party organisation — in turn, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav loses no opportunity to emphasise that his calling card in politics is clean, aspirational governance that is focussed on development and law and order. In the run-up to the State elections, he is seeking to foreground this image, and pushing back on the discord with his uncles. A day before the Chief Secretary’s sacking, he dismissed two Ministers caught in corruption charges, evidently without securing his father’s nod. Earlier, he forced the revocation of a Shivpal-engineered merger of the Quami Ekta Dal into the SP, on account of its criminal antecedents. Mr. Akhilesh Yadav could, in fact, pull this discord to the party’s electoral advantage. He does not carry the burden of incumbency issues, primarily the politics of patronage and rent-seeking. But for this to happen he may have to force his father to show his hand more unambiguously and recover some control of the SP’s State unit.