Why has Mulayam Singh Yadav acted the way he has? What is the cause of friction between father and son? How could differences over a few seats be so insurmountable that the father had to sack his chief minister son from his own party?
There are several conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Delhi and Lucknow alike in attempts to answer these questions.
The first conspiracy theory is that Mulayam Singh Yadav is acting at the behest of Bhartiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah who has "managed" him. Mulayam Singh Yadav, the theory goes, is deliberately sabotaging his own party's prospects in the forthcoming assembly elections. The BJP wants the contest to be between them and a weak BSP, the theory goes, even as the BSP is considered the third party this election.
How has Mulayam Singh Yadav been 'managed'? There are two theories. It is being widely speculated that Mulayam has been promised by the BJP to be made India's next president or vice president. That also explains, according to those who propound this theory, why Mulayam Singh Yadav needed Amar Singh back in the party. Amar Singh helps 'Netaji' navigate and maneuver the world of Lutyens' Delhi.
Another theory, not mutually exclusive, is that Mulayam Singh Yadav has been 'managed' by the BJP with the threat of the CBI's disproportionate assets case against him.
Yet another speculation has been that the family feud is all a scripted drama with the entire Yadav clan putting up one big act. The purpose of this fake war is to raise the profile of Akhilesh Yadav as a martyr-hero and help the party win the election.
None of these theories make any sense, or have any evidence to support them. As for the CBI case against Mulayam Singh Yadav, it is as good as closed. Besides, Akhilesh Yadav is also an accused in the case. Why is the CBI threat not working on him?
If the whole act is scripted, why has it gone so far that going back seems impossible? It is still possible that Mulayam Singh Yadav may forgive Akhilesh and take him back in the party and let him spear the election campaign as he wishes, but after yesterday's developments that seems highly unlikely. As a split in the party is about to be formalised, with both sides fighting to keep the cycle symbol, it will soon be clear if the drama was scripted.
Is Mulayam Singh Yadav so naive as to believe he will be made president or vice president by the BJP government? Perhaps he is. But for that, why will he act in a way that sabotages the chances of his party doing well in the assembly elections? After all, MLAs elected in this assembly election would be needed to vote in the presidential and vice presidential electoral college.
Who's afraid of Amar Singh?
Or perhaps all of these things are true. After all, why did Mulayam Singh Yadav need Amar Singh back after six years? What is it in Delhi that Mulayam Singh Yadav needs done that Amar Singh became a necessity for him again?
It is being widely said that Mulayam has been promised by or is lobbying with the BJP to be made India's next president or vice president.
One of the first things Amar Singh did after being appointed national general secretary of the SP in September was to take Mulayam Singh Yadav to meet Ram Jethmalani, the veteran lawyer whom all powerful politicians want. A little birdie tells us that Mulayam Singh Yadav asked for Jethmalani's help with his case, and also repeated his usual rant about how he almost became prime minister. "Lalu prevented me back then, but this time there will be no such mistake," Yadav told Jethmalani, we have reliably learnt.
These still don't provide any explanation of why the split between Mualaym and Akhilesh appears so bitter that Mulayam has sacked Akhilesh from the party. Be it Mulayam's ambitions to be prime minister or president, or whatever Mulayam needs to do to get the CBI to officially close the cases, why would Akhilesh Yadav not be appreciative of or helpful in these concerns? Can't these problems be solved without Amar Singh?
Then there's the theory that Mulayam Singh Yadav's second wife Sadhna Gupta, his brother Shivpal Yadav and friend Amar Singh have been inciting Mulayam Singh Yadav against Akhilesh. In that case, what makes Mulayam Singh Yadav receptive to such talk against his own son? After all, Mulayam made Akhilesh CM in 2012.
Perhaps all of these theories have some truth in them, and even time may not fully tell us. However, in our search for conspiracy theories, we tend to overlook the simplest and most plausible explanation.
It has been very clear for a long time that Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son haven't been getting along, for reasons that fathers and sons often don't get along. As Akhilesh Yadav has been trying to become his own man since May 2014, Mulayam Singh Yadav has been feeling increasingly powerless. We read only political intent in the acts of politicians, but inter-personal relations script their own story. Whether Akhilesh Yadav touched chacha Shivpal Yadav's feet today or not may be a bigger issue inside the family than whether the CBI case could be re-opened.
It is clash of egos resulting from a generation gap. Mulayam Singh Yadav feels Akhilesh has become too big for his boots, isn't respecting the father enough, isn't consulting him enough, doesn't spend time with him. Mulayam Singh Yadav didn't take the idea of a Congress alliance seriously, a little birdie tells us, because he was incensed that Akhilesh initiated talks with the Congress without even consulting Mulayam.
As was evident in Mulayam's sacking of Akhilesh from the party yesterday, Mulayam seeks to assert control and show who's boss, who created the party, who produced the son, who made the son chief minister. Akhilesh thinks, as young men tend to, that the father has grown old and should retire.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is 77, Akhilesh Yadav 43. The 34 years that divide them is the long distance between their worldviews, their concepts of politics and governance.
Mulayam Singh Yadav wants to give tickets to dons with criminal records, Akhilesh wants to change the party's goonda image. Mulayam Singh Yadav makes egregious comments on rape, Akhilesh Yadav starts women's helplines that actually work. Mulayam Singh Yadav represents the identity politics of Mandal, Akhilesh Yadav casts his image more as Akhilesh and less as Yadav. Mulayam Singh Yadav is known as a 'mullah' for his Muslim identity politics, Akhilesh Yadav wants to cast a secular technocrat image for himself.
Mulayam Singh Yadav has, since 2014, publicly scolded Akhilesh Yadav on a number of occasions. In one such instance, Mulayam Singh said, "I wanted to got to Delhi (in government) but we got only 5 seats (in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections). Why did we do so badly? I asked for a report but haven't got one till date."
In one speech, Mulayam shouted "Abey chup!" as he noticed Akhilesh was talking to another leader as Mulayam was admonishing him for poor governance.
When Mulayam made Akhilesh chief minister in 2012, he thought the step would free him up to prepare for Delhi. If the SP's poor performance, thanks to the Modi wave, dashed Mulayam's ambitions, Akhilesh learnt his own lessons from that election. Akhilesh was a powerless half CM in a government that was said to have five and a half chief ministers. The future belonged to Akhilesh and it would be his only if he asserted his independence and freed himself of the control of these five unofficial chief ministers above him.
One of those five, Ram Gopal Yadav, didn't get along with Shivpal, so Ram Gopal was co-opted by Akhilesh. Azam Khan smartly became neutral. Anita Singh, the principal secretary to the CM, who was Mulayam's eyes and ears in the secretariat, was ignored by Akhilesh anyway. This left the wrestling akhara clear between Akhilesh and Mulayam. Ram Gopal and Shivpal are just the supporters on either side.
Ring in the new
The phrase yuva peedhi, the young generation, has become an anathema for Mulayam Singh Yadav. He hates hearing about the young generation that's reshaping the party, the government and the world.
As Mulayam Singh Yadav kept scolding Akhilesh Yadav since 2014 for not doing enough with governance. Akhilesh silently took up key development and social welfare projects that he could highlight as achievements. Having done this, he carried out a massive not-so-subtle PR campaign to build Brand Akhilesh. His favourite bureaucrat, Navneet Sehgal, worked on the media.
Akhilesh copied the Nitish-Modi-Mamata-Patnaik-Jayalaithaa model in which bureaucrats are more important than ministers, and MLAs don't even know what the chief minister is up to. At the same time, his visible development with high pitch presidential branding made him popular with people, both within and without the party's traditional voter base. As the family feud came out in the open, surveys showed Akhilesh was way more popular than Mulayam. Mulayam's jealousy and frustration is apparent. He keeps repeating: I built the party, I won four elections, I made Akhilesh chief minister.
Shivpal Yadav is also constrained to repeatedly point out that as a key minister in-charge of several important portfolios, he must get the credit for the government's achievements too. But Akhilesh's presidential style brand building had no space for anyone else.
In Mulayam's words
In his press conference yesterday, announcing the sacking of Ram Gopal and Akhilesh from the party, Mulayam Singh spoke at length about what his problem with Akhilesh was. He said (rough translation from Hindi): "Ram Gopal is ruining Akhilesh's future. Akhilesh is unable to understand this. Who was willing to make him chief minister? Tell me, was anyone going to make him chief minister? I did it myself. I thought, let's do it now, who knows there may or may not be another opportunity. I was in a position to do it. I did it. You tell me, in history, if anyone, has done such a thing for his son? Anywhere in India? During British rule or any other party's rule or in the Congress or any party... Has anyone on their own... am I not in good health? Do I travel less than these people? I travel more than these people. I meet more people than they do. I thought, let's make him chief minister. But now Ram Gopal has destroyed his future. I am telling you, he has destroyed Akhilesh's future. He has made Akhilesh controversial now and Akhilesh is unable to understand that. Akhilesh isn't consulting me either. Akhilesh could have asked me, 'Ram Gopal is calling a national convention, what should I do?' Instead, Akhilesh is misusing government machinery to tell everyone to come to Lucknow for the convention overnight. He is providing transport facilities for it. Is this how a party is run?"
As the family feud came out in the open, surveys showed Akhilesh was way more popular than Mulayam. Mulayam's jealousy and frustration is apparent. He keeps repeating: I built the party, I won four elections, I made Akhilesh chief minister.
He also said, "I worked hard and built the party. What was he (Akhilesh) then? Where was he? The party was formed in 1992. I resigned as chief minister, left the party (Janata Dal) and formed the (Samajwadi) party. I left (Janata Dal) alone and built my party. I toured the whole state and built the party. He wants to enjoy the fruits, while I did the hard work? I went to jail... did he go to jail in the Emergency? Ok he was too young then, but what about adhyaksh ji (Ram Gopal)?
A day before this, on Thursday, in his press conference announcing 325 candidates, Mulayam was asked by a journalist about age. "A senior leader of the party has said that the elderly don't dream. It is the young who dream," the journalist said, asking for comments on the statement. Mulayam replied, "I am elderly? Do I look elderly to you?" Everyone in the room laughed, as did Mulayam himself.
Your children are not yours
By sacking Akhilesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav has committed political suicide, as most of the party, the leaders, the workers, and voters are with Akhilesh. Netaji is surely aware of what a split means, not just for the party but also for himself at the age of 77. As he sees it, he wants to rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Why did he make Akhilesh Yadav chief minister in the first place? Shivpal, in a speech in Akhilesh's presence some months ago, said, "Some people get it in inheritance. Others who struggle all their lives get nothing." Mulayam wanted to pass on the baton to his son like a good patriarch while he is still alive, so that there is no confusion after he is gone. Like a good patriarch, he expected his son to be obedient and subservient to him while he is still around.
Netaji should have read Kahlil Gibran's poem, "On children":
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
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