LUCKNOW : The bungalows of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his embattled uncle Shivpal Yadav sit almost adjacent to each other on Lucknow’s fancy Kalidas Marg. But the distance between the two continues to be a critical factor ahead of the coming Assembly polls.
This is despite the former calling on his uncle on Saturday to formally congratulate him on being made the State party chief, with a 40-minute tea-meet thrown in and a press conference to showcase party unity. ‘’I congratulated the State party chief appointed by ‘Netaji’... We are united, there is no rift in the party,’’ Akhilesh said in response to a ‘role call’, just as Shivpal headed towards the airport. But as another day of attrition wound down, it was apparent that the four-point compromise formula proposed by party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has only served to put up a facade of unity. The factional rivalry runs deep, all the way down to the grassroots.
If the last two days saw Shivpal’s loyalist MLAs protesting in front of the CM’s bungalow, on Saturday it was the turn of the party’s Yuva Morcha musketeers to put up a show of strength, raising slogans outside Mulayam’s residence and the party office. At the party office itself and around, there are shops selling Samajwadi souvenirs. What strikes the eye are the T-shirts with Akhilesh’s face embossed on them, matching his new assertiveness. And yet, it is clear that Mulayam’s formula has left his CM son in an aspect of retreat.
His say in ticket distribution has not quite been formalised, which is why the youth wing is protesting. The new ‘executive committee’ for candidate selection would be headed by ‘Netaji’, ‘’beta (son) will be a part of it’’, a top SP leader pointed out. During the last Assembly polls Akhilesh was fully at the helm of affairs.
There was also another face-saving measure thrown in for the son. While most of Shivpal’s portfolios will be restored, including a few additions that take the total tally to 13, Akhilesh will retain the PWD ministry and will not give it back to his uncle.
Despite the damage potential a public family feud can have so close to elections — and the unseemly spectacle of the father siding with a middle-aged brother rather than his own chosen heir — there is a very good reason why the SP supremo has chosen to act this way.
The middle-aged rank and file at the grassroots -— from the same generation as his and Shivpal’s — are the real backbone of the party. This crucial segment — which Shivpal controls to a great degree — has always felt alienated from Akhilesh’s Lucknow-bound style of functioning. They feel no access to power other than the more rustic uncle.
So if Shivpal is disenchanted, he has the capacity to cause serious damage during the elections. It is to avert the chances of a rebellious sabotage that Mulayam has chosen to side with the brother.
On the other hand, with Shivpal in charge of ticket distribution and taking onus as State party chief, he will be compelled to take ownership of the election battle and ensure victories. Indeed, even if he has to grant the wishes of Akhilesh on a few seats, the onus will be on Shivpal to see them through to victory. At least, in theory.
All is not lost for Akhilesh
While most other portfolios have been returned to Shivpal, including a few new ones, PWD ministry will be retained by Akhilesh. For a government that has initiated massive infrastructure projects, PWD is a crucial ministry. Its budget is more than the total of all other ministries returned to Shivpal.