02/01/2017 12:49 PM IST | Updated 02/01/2017 2:09 PM IST

Beware The Title Margadarshak, For No Fate Is Worse In Indian Politics

And for Mulayam Singh Yadav it seems to be the writing on the wall.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

There, someone has said it, the M-word.

"We have accepted Netaji as our margdarshak and we respect him," says Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal. But then he adds "Public has faith in Akhilesh."

In the dictionary of Indian politics, margdarshak is a euphemism for a politician being put out to pasture. As the BJP would no doubt agree.

When the three strong men of the BJP, L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and the ailing Atal Behari Vajpayee were moved to a Margdarshak Mandal, it was clear that they were really just being moved out of the way. But no one could say that aloud.

At that time BJP spokesperson GVLN Rao had piously told the media that the Margdarshak Mandal would be a "moral guiding force" in the party and would "guide the party leadership".

Two years later when the BJP national council was held in Kerala, the margdarshak mandal had never met. When Advani and Joshi spoke up publicly, it was to lambaste the party leadership after its Bihar performance saying no lesson had been learned from the fiasco during the Delhi assembly elections. When Kirti Azad was suspended by the party, the former cricketer said he would ask the margdarshak mandal to look into the issue. The margdarshak mandal has no constitutional role, no real power but it has some nuisance value. It has transformed into the place where the veterans left out in the cold go not to guide but to pout.

In Kerala, when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) won the assembly elections last year, the veteran leader who was not getting the chief minister's job was relegated to the sidelines the moment party general secretary Sitaram Yechury likened him to Fidel Castro.

Or issue loaded like statements as Advani did when he said "I don't have the confidence that the (Emergency) cannot happen again."

The Margdarshak-ification of Mulayam Singh Yadav is playing out according to that same script of pique, pout and piety. Akhilesh falls over himself in paying tribute to Mulayam Singh Yadav even as he systematically wrests the party from him, the latest act being getting himself elected party president at a "national convention".

There's one theory that all of this drama is happening with Mulayam's full knowledge and blessing. "Everything happened with the consent of Netaji. He just did not want to get the blame for appointing his son. It is better that this has been done now when Netaji is alive," says Gorakhpur district secretary Ashok Yadav.

That conspiracy theory says that this is all elaborate shadow theatre to add national stature to Akhilesh's image before the UP election as a "martyr-hero" writes Shivam Vij. But Vij also writes that theory feels strained because it's not a secret that father and son have not been getting along. "As Akhilesh Yadav has been trying to become his own man since May 2014, Mulayam Singh Yadav has been feeling increasingly powerless," writes Vij. When Mulayam anointed Akhilesh as the chief minister, the theory was Netaji was going to focus on Delhi but the Narendra Modi-led thumping BJP victory shattered those dreams and left him as neta looking for a place from where to lead.

Mulayam Singh Yadav is a wily leader who has backed and betrayed his political compatriots whenever it suited him. It would be strange indeed for a man of his stature and ego to want to seem this powerless just to secure his son's future. He is issuing orders and diktats, only to see them being overturned with impunity. If it's being done at his own behest, that's even more humiliating. The obeisance being paid to him only rubs in the humiliation further. It makes him sound like a helpless patriarch, a puppet in a tug-o-war between Yadav kith and kin. "Anyone can type a letter against me and mischievously make Netaji sign it," says Akhilesh making his father sound like a befuddled old man at the mercy of even a typewriter.

It's a problem affecting all parties that revolve around one charismatic leader. There is no way to get rid of that leader without someone losing face in the process unless they choose to go into the sunset on their own. But politicians are ambitious and few will put party before personal ambition and bow out gracefully. While Narendra Modi talks incessantly about our youth demographic and its dividends, the fact is the old order is also living longer and holding onto power longer. The BJP to its credit tried to fashion a way out with its blanket rule on leaders over 75 but its margdarshak mandal has proved to be an empty promise, more a gussa ghar for its veterans than a retirement home, a petri dish of pique and abhimaan. And why just single out the politicians? The latest Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry imbroglio has all the ingredients of how the old order changeth its mind about yielding place to the new.

What makes it even harder to change from the old order to the new is the fact that most of our parties are run as family businesses or like family businesses. A Conservative party in the UK can democractically boot out its leaders, even a Margaret Thatcher, when they see that to be in the party's interest. But inner party democracy is practically non-existent here with the Congress being the margdarshak in that regard. The Communists still have their politburo but the BJP is quickly transforming into a personality-centric party as well under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. In that sense Akhilesh has embarked on a risky journey playing dutiful Ramachandra while being accused of being Aurangzeb.

Whether the voters accept this is a matter of conjecture. But what's more important is whether Mulayam will. All that we know right now about him is that doctors rushed to his residence after he complained of toothache.

Wisdom teeth, perhaps? Now the latest news says that despite calling the Akhilesh-led convention illegal and unconstitutional, Mulayam has, without explanation, called off his January 5 convention. Perhaps he is apprehensive of a poor turnout. Perhaps his toothache is acting up. Or perhaps he has seen the writing on the wall about what it means to be a margdarshak.

Margdarshak might sound like the one who shows you the way. But in political reality, it's the margdarshak who is being gently shown the road.