Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Why Mulayam Singh Yadav will remain Netaji but Akhilesh Yadav is the neta

The house on Vikramaditya Marg in which Mulayam Singh Yadav lives is almost invisible behind the trees that spread their branches protectively in front. Next door, is another sprawling residence, more visible, very white, with an ornate gate — the renovated bungalow into which Akhilesh Yadav moved from the house he shared with his father until recently.

But, the story goes, for all their separateness, the two houses are linked from the inside. “It’s like this,” says a partyman. “Ghar bada ho gaya hai, the home has only grown larger,” he says of the two houses that sit next to each other.

As the political family drama in the Samajwadi Party turns and twists every day, the distance between those two houses is being measured every day and party leaders are calibrating their positions accordingly. On Tuesday, as father and son held a meeting inside the Mulayam residence, the cameras lined up on Vikramaditya Marg again and once more the party held its breath.

But some things are already clear. To begin with, and most of all: Whichever way the current impasse between the Akhilesh Yadav-Ram Gopal Yadav and the Mulayam Singh Yadav-Shivpal Yadav camps ends, the story of the SP in UP has been upended dramatically.

It used to be said that UP has “four and a half” chief ministers, with Akhilesh being the stunted, diminutive fraction, the son unable to assert himself before a towering Netaji and interfering uncles. Now, the dominant common sense in Lucknow’s political corridors speaks of Akhilesh finally emerging as his own man. Mulayam is the one cast in the role of helpless patriarch, hijacked by his own conflicted emotions and by those who seek to destroy the party from within and without. The last is a euphemism for a cast of characters, eye-catching stereotypes: the “wily outsider” Amar Singh, the “ambitious uncle” Shivpal Yadav and the less-seen, more shadowy figure of the “conniving stepmother,” all propped up by the anti-Samajwadi communal forces in the shape of the BJP.

“I raised my hand with a very heavy heart (when Akhilesh was made party president unseating Mulayam, who was elevated to the SP’s own version of the old age home as “sanrakshak” or guardian, at the party convention on January 1, which Mulayam later dubbed ‘unconstitutional’)”, says Shankh Lal Manjhi, two-time MLA and one-time MP from the SP, minister of social welfare in the Akhilesh government. Manjhi has been with the SP since its birth in 1992. “All of us respect Netaji. He taught us how to walk. But.”

The posters that came up in the city before the January 1 convention may well complete the sentence Manjhi leaves unfinished: “Loha tap, kundan bhaya”, iron has passed the test, turned to gold. It is a sequel to the slogan of yore featuring only the father: “Mann se hai Mulayam, irade loha hain (Mulayam has a soft heart, an iron resolve)”. From one slogan to another, it is a story of the passing of a political legacy from father to son – with or without the former’s consent.

The man who coined the slogan of Mulayam’s iron resolve, who has also written the Samajwadi Party’s anthem, and who is known as Mulayam’s guru, has put his imprimatur on the handing over, or wresting of the baton, in Lucknow. Uday Pratap Singh, working president of the Hindi Sansthan, taught Mulayam in classes 11 and 12 in a Saifai college. Mulayam was a good sportsman, wrestler and even in class 11, called “Netaji” by fellow students, he remembers fondly.

Lohia had given a “jail bharo” call to protest against rising irrigation water rates, Mulayam offered himself for arrest, and was indignant when told he was too young to be sent to jail. “He’s been my student, my colleague, my leader. But now, he is not the same Mulayam Singh”, says Uday Pratap Singh. He will not say more, but his presence on stage in the party convention that unseated Mulayam as national president and anointed Akhilesh in his place, is being seen as an evocative symbol and giveaway of the Lucknow’s power shift.

Uday Pratap Singh may be holding back but many SP MLAs are coming out openly and aggressively in support of Akhilesh. On the other side, there is surly evasion broken only by careful hedging in those identified as belonging to the Shivpal-Mulayam camp. Like Manjhi, those who speak up for Akhilesh begin by reiterating their respect for Mulayam. And go on to make a distinction as clear as it is sharp. “Netaji is our leader, but the party’s neta is Akhilesh”, says Zahid Baig, SP’s Bhadohi MLA.

In his small apartment near the old secretariat office, keeping one eye on a flickering TV screen for the latest breaking news on the SP, Baig, explains: “We are there because of Netaji. But today, time and the people are with Akhilesh”. The problem has been created, according to Baig, by party outsiders. “Netaji is a sentimental man, he is letting himself be pressured”, he says.

Sahab Singh Saini, minister and MLC from Saharanpur, who came to the SP from the Congress in 2009, also says that “Netaji is not doing this on his own, his hand is being forced”. Among the achievements Saini lists of Akhilesh raj, is “Dial 100”: “UP has take a step for crime control that only a few other countries have. You can now dial 100 and a police vehicle will reach the scene of the crime within minutes.” There are other helplines in the Akhilesh government, but ‘Dial 100’ is most often cited by Akhilesh supporters for a reason.

The SP has long struggled with an image problem – when in power, it has been accused of unleashing a “goonda raj”. Now, Akhilesh’s attempts to remake the SP image are emphasised by SP MLAs. Didn’t Akhilesh take a firm position in the party against known history-sheeters like D P Yadav in the last election, and Mukhtar Ansari, Atique Ahmed and Amanmani Tripathi ahead of the upcoming Assembly poll, they say.

“Old timers like us were feeling suffocated in the party as Netaji allowed the party to be hijacked by people who dictated appointments, land deals and favours to particular businessmen”, says Ziauddin Rizvi, third-time SP MLA from Ballia and animal husbandry minister in the Akhilesh government, who has been with the SP from the beginning of the party in 1992.

In contrast to his colleagues who hold forth in support of Akhilesh, Om Prakash Singh, the former minister sacked by Akhilesh and Ghazipur MLA, who is seen to be a prime mover in the Mulayam-Shivpal camp, plays it safe: “We stand for a constructive politics. Netaji and Akhilesh complete each other. Akhilesh is still the chehra, face, and bhavishya, future. We are responsible people, we still hope”. Others in this camp admit sullenly, off the record, to a “varchasva ki ladai”, fight for influence.

By all accounts, Akhilesh controls the government and a majority of the MLAs. He has taken over as national party president and installed his own candidate as the party’s state president. In the party office in Lucknow, the rooms bearing the nameplates of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal Yadav already wear the look of an older time, the crowd has shifted to the office of newly appointed state president Naresh Uttam, who poses for selfies with supporters.

The process of political consolidation and acquisition began after the SP’s Lok Sabha jolt in the 2014 polls, roughly the time Akhilesh began determinedly projecting a development agenda he could call his own – big-ticket projects like the Lucknow-Agra Expressway and the Lucknow Metro were accelerated, and several schemes and subsidies and helplines launched, leading up to the multi-media campaign “kaam bolta hai”, work speaks for itself. That process seems to have delivered, for Akhilesh.

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