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The Battle In UP Is Playing Out As Another Feudal Story Of 'My Father's Property'

Dynastic politics 101.

24/10/2016 12:04 PM IST | Updated 24/10/2016 12:54 PM IST
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Pawan Kumar / Reuters
Akhilesh Yadav (R) with Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2012. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

In the current Kurukshetra waging in Uttar Pradesh, one statement by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav stands out.

I am Mulayam Singh Yadav's sole heir, Akhilesh is reported to have told party members at the meeting at his home attended by more than 200 of 226 MLAs. A party source told the media that Akhilesh said, "I am his son and his only heir in the party."

That could be taken as a reference to the other son, Prateek, whose mother is said to be muddying the waters behind the scenes for Akhilesh. Prateek is in real estate currently but his wife is supposed to harbour political ambitions. This is also a reference to the brothers and cousins who are taking sides in this epic battle. Akhilesh is reminding them that no one has greater claim to the throne than he does as he tries to clip the wings of his powerful uncle. In a great enactment of political abhimaan, Shivpal Yadav has vowed not to work as a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government, even if it comes back to power in 2017: "Akhilesh has hurt me. He may not accept it, but he has been like my own child."

But the child has grown up and has ideas of his own. Newsman Rahul Kanwal tweets, "In all the years I have known @yadavakhilesh never thought he'd have the courage to take on his corrupt uncles. Extremely brave step by CM."

That might well be true, but it's interesting that the stories coming out of his meeting are not about a brave battle against corruption but a bloody fight for inheritance.

That's the message that goes out loud and clear when Akhilesh says, "I remained silent for four-and-a-half years because I didn't want to create a controversy. But now it is inevitable, and I will fight this battle for my rights."

Akhilesh is not saying he's fighting for the little guy. Or for the victim of corruption. He is saying he is fighting for his right as the inheritor of Mulayam Singh Yadav's party. The party is thus blatantly reduced to a family heirloom being squabbled over by a cluster of Yadavs, all by virtue of their bloodline.

It comes with pro forma declarations of loyalty and fealty to the father figure. Akhilesh begins his meeting declaring "unflinching" loyalty to his father. Mulayam's cousin Ramgopal is suspended from the party but promises to "respect" Mulayam throughout his life and claims Mulayam is surrounded by "evil spirits". Through all the tit-for-tat statements and suspensions, no one dares to publicly diss Mulayam himself. All back-stabbing is done via surrogates while claiming Mulayam like Brutus is an honourable man.

Several years ago, in an interview about ageing in India, sociologist Ashis Nandy had said that while India takes great pride in its youth dividend (Narendra Modi almost never fails to mention it when he goes abroad), one of the fastest-growing section of the population is the 80-plus segment. According to UN statistics, by 2050, 48 million Indians will be over 80. "The younger are often earning more money and holding higher posts," Nandy said. "But do not forget the elderly can also stick onto their posts much longer. If you are heading an empire, children can no longer hope to inherit it as easily as they used to. So it cuts both ways."

Mamata Banerjee and the ghosts of Chandra Sekhar and VP Singh would be forgiven for not being too sympathetic at the current plight of the old pugilist.

That double-edged sword is on full naked display in Uttar Pradesh. Mulayam paved the way for Akhilesh in UP because he reportedly was dreaming about the PM's chair in New Delhi. But that came to naught and now seems to be grudging him the power he handed over to him. And he will not gracefully exit the stage and leave Akhilesh to sink or swim, preferring to hold on to veto power by remote control.

It's not the first time we have seen this battle in Indian politics in recent times. When Narendra Modi wrested the crown of the BJP nomination for prime minister, we saw LK Advani, his former father-figure/mentor as the Great Petulant. Uma Bharti told journalists, "Modi is like a son to (Advani). Advani made Modi." "In reality, there is nothing more pathetic than a petulant octogenarian," said an editorial in The Telegraph at the time.

Mulayam has cannily held on to far more power than an LK Advani who could do little but huff in pique. But what the Grand Old Turks have in common is that they know their last great power is the power of emotional blackmail. It's no coincidence that Mulayam is claiming to be "distressed" and "deeply hurt" by Akhilesh's failure to robustly defend him when letters he deemed critical of him went out from Ram Gopal Yadav.

What the Grand Old Turks have in common is that they know their last great power is the power of emotional blackmail

In a father-son drama like this, hurt and distress are far more effective as public weapons than anger. The "great hurt" of Mulayam Singh Yadav is following a time-worm Indian script, rendered no less potent by the fact that Mulayam himself has happily hurt many in his own career of U-turns. Mamata Banerjee and the ghosts of Chandra Sekhar and VP Singh would be forgiven for not being too sympathetic at the current plight of the old pugilist.

It's ironic that while Akhilesh Yadav touts his relatively cleaner image and presents himself as the modern laptop face of the Samajwadi Party, the language in which he stakes the claim, the language which he assumes will resonate with his electorate, is unabashedly feudal. He is his father's son staking his claim to his father's property.

In common parlance we often say, "Tera baap ka maal hai kya".

The battle in UP might be about ideology. It might about corruption. It might be about a new generation's new way of thinking. But it's playing out as yet another feudal story of a political party as "my father's property".

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