After a day of retaliatory sackings, the drama unfolding in the Samajwadi Party's top leadership escalated late on Sunday evening with suspended Akhilesh Yadav loyalist and party's National General Secretary, Ramgopal Yadav, claiming that SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav "was surrounded by evil spirits", and the CM expressing his "unflinching" loyalty to his father.
Emotionally charged comments followed in rapid succession from the parties involved-–party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Chief Minister son Akhilesh, Mulayam's brother Shivpal Yadav and cousin Ramgopal Yadav.
"I will continue to respect (Mulayam) throughout my life," Ramgopal was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.
On his part, Akhilesh is said to have told party members at meeting at his home, attended by more than 200 of the 226 MLAs, that he is the sole heir of Mulayam.
"I won't spare anybody conspiring against Netaji. He has made me chief minister and I will always follow his instructions, but those trying to create confusion between us will be punished," minister Rajendra Chaudhary quoted Akhilesh as saying.
Sources told the Times of India, that Mulayam said he was "deeply hurt". At a meeting of party officials on Saturday, the SP supremo, fondly called Netaji by his party workers, said he was disappointed that his son did not defend him after Ramgopal sent him a letter stating that he will be held responsible if the party was defeated in the upcoming UP Assembly elections.
Ahead of the Assembly polls, ruling Samajwadi Party appeared to be headed for a split, with Akhilesh and Mulayam sacking each other's loyalists.
A hurt Shivpal told TOI in an interview that he will not work as a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government even if the party came back to power.
"I declare it today that I will not work as a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government — even if SP comes back to power (in 2017). Enough is enough. I have been humiliated and punished for no crime of mine. Akhilesh has hurt me. He may not accept it, but he has been like my own child," he said.
Akhilesh first sacked Shivpal, his uncle and party's state unit chief, along with three other "pro-Amar Singh" ministers from his Cabinet. Mulayam, in a tit-for-tat action, expelled Ramgopal, pro-CM cousin and SP's national general secretary, from the party for six years.
Mulayam, who remained silent during the day, told reporters in the evening that "Whatever I have to say, I will say tomorrow." He made the remarks after a meeting with Shivpal, Om Prakash Singh, senior minister and spokeperson Ambika Chaudhary, and MLC Ashu Malik, and some others.
Those who attended the meeting claimed that there were demands for cracking the whip against supporters of Amar Singh, whose re-induction in the party two months ago had triggered a fight in the family.
"I declare it today that I will not work as a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government — even if SP comes back to power (in 2017). Enough is enough."
After the meeting, the Chief Minister recommended to Governor Ram Naik that Shivpal, Narad Rai and Om Prakash Singh (all Cabinet ministers) and Sayeda Shadab Fatima (MoS - Independent charge) be sacked from his ministry. This was accepted immediately.
While the meeting was underway, hundreds of Akhilesh's supporters were raising slogans in his favour outside. Significantly, before Akhilesh announced the sacking of Shivpal and three other ministers, Ramgopal issued a letter written to party workers, expressing support to the Chief Minister and warning those opposing him.
"Those who oppose Akhilesh won't be able to show their faces in the legislative assembly. Where Akhilesh is, victory follows," he said in the letter.
After his sacking, Shivpal met Mulayam at his residence. Hours later, he announced that the SP chief had expelled Ramgopal from the party for six years.
Shivpal told mediapersons that Ramgopal was colluding with BJP and had thrice met a senior leader of the saffron party to save himself and his son from a CBI probe in the Yadav Singh Noida scam.
He said he was not worried about being dropped from the government and declared that the state Assembly elections would be fought under leadership of Mulayam.
As the confrontation between the Akhilesh camp and the Mulayam camp appeared to be reaching a point of no return, reports were already doing the rounds that the Chief Minister could launch a new party named 'National Samajwadi Party' or 'Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party' with motorcycle as its symbol.
(With PTI inputs)