Peacemaking may well have been the intent behind Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s summons to his warring son and brother at a party meet in Lucknow on Monday. But the gathering soon lapsed into a tawdry spectacle of blame-calling and weepy confessional, with all three airing their grievances petulantly in full view of the assembled party faithful. Since September 13, when Mr. Yadav replaced son Akhilesh Yadav, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, with his brother Shivpal Yadav as the SP’s State unit chief, the party has been hurtling inexorably towards a split, in a blaze of sackings and accusations. The occasional restoration of one or the other of the dramatis personae to a lost post has failed to check the feud. Monday’s developments have all but foreclosed the possibility of any resolution that could put the SP back together again in time for the Assembly elections in a dangerously polarised landscape. Ever since he became Chief Minister in 2012, Akhilesh Yadav has functioned in the shadow of his father and “uncles” — relatives and party stalwarts. This has cut both ways for the young Chief Minister. He has had to field questions about his authority with charges that U.P. in effect had “four and a half CMs” — but it also allowed him to separate himself from the SP’s worst instincts. Their overbearing presence allowed his government an alibi for failing to maintain law and order. Their continuance served as a reminder of the generational shift he effected, from their traditional resistance to English education and computers, and their “boys will be boys” excuse-making for the politics of patronage and rent-seeking.
Till the meltdown over the last couple of months, it seemed that all that the SP was headed towards was a final transition from the old guard towards a more aspirational politics. A convincing transition is now all but impossible, and the timing of Akhilesh Yadav’s next steps could determine his future in public life. It is ironic that Mulayam Singh Yadav, a most pragmatic politician who left no bridge unbuilt across the ideological spectrum, is presiding over nothing more than a power grab among his family and friends. Mr. Yadav’s legacy includes the deepening of the Mandal politics of social justice, being a guarantor of the safety of minorities and getting a grip on the agrarian economy in the State. It is unfortunate to see him publicly value a fellow-traveller primarily for keeping him out of prison, and not make any effort to transform a feud into a constructive contest of ideas. At a time when he has decided to openly take stock of his inner circle’s loyalty, he has let himself down the most.