Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav may have been dethroned in the last assembly election but, in the process, has consolidated his hold over his faction-ridden party.

When the Samajwadi Party was decimated in the elections earlier this year, it was widely speculated that the young party chief would come under attack from his estranged father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav who were sidelined by Akhilesh Yadav in the run-up to the polls.

The simmering family feud, which exploded barely months before the crucial assembly polls, had resulted in Akhilesh Yadav replacing his father as Samajwadi Party president. At the same time, he had also removed his uncle, Shivpal Yadav, from party posts. Though Mulayam Singh Yadav declared the appointment illegal and took the matter to the Election Commission, the verdict went in favour of Akhilesh Yadav. However, these internal family squabbles cleaved the party as a section of party cadres continued to pledge loyalty to the older Mulyaum-Shivpal duo. While the sulking Samajwadi Party patriarch was barely seen in the election campaign, Shivpal Yadav worked actively to defeat the party’s official candidates.

Knives were out for Akhilesh Yadav after the Samajwadi Party’s humiliating defeat and there was talk that the young party chief could be sent packing or marginalised. His father and uncle also made periodic statements that they were planning to float a new political party in the coming months.

Complete control

Though Akhilesh Yadav faced a lot of flak from his own family members after the poll results, he managed to hold his own. He successfully faced the first challenge to his leadership when he ensured that his nominee, Ram Govind Chaudhary, was appointed leader of opposition in the Uttar Pradesh assembly. His father’s old loyalist Azam Khan and his uncle Shivpal Yadav were eyeing the post but their efforts went in vain.

Subsequent developments have demonstrated that instead of being sidelined, Akhilesh Yadav has gained complete control of the party. He was re-elected Samajwadi Party president for a period of five years at the party’s national executive meeting earlier this month. He also sought to clear any lingering doubts about his strained relations with his father and uncle by publicly declaring to a large gathering of party workers that he had their blessings and support. It is a measure of his growing confidence that Akhilesh Yadav even dropped Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal Yadav from the membership of the party’s new national executive announced on Monday.

Akhilesh Yadav’s position was further strengthened when Mulayam Singh Yadav declared last month that he did not intend to float a new political party. In fact, he even went as far as to underline that he is “with the SP and in the SP” and further remarked that Akhilesh Yadav had his blessings “as he is my son” even though he was not in agreement with his decisions. Father and son were also seen together in public for the first time after a year when they attended a function held in Lucknow recently to pay tribute to Ram Manohar Lohia on his death anniversary where the senior Yadav insisted there was no rift in the family and it is united.

Back from the brink

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s ambivalence has , once again, raised questions about his role in the drama which took place on election-eve and led to takeover of the party by Akhilesh Yadav. It was suspected that despite their differences, the party veteran was unlikely to forsake his son and that it was always his intention to make way for him. However, he could not afford to alienate his brother Shivpal Yadav who had helped him build the party and also exercised considerable clout among the cadres. Mulayam Singh Yadav perforce had to do a delicate balancing act between his son and brother. As the chief anchor of the extended Yadav parivar, Mulayam Singh Yadav had managed to keep the clan together by accommodating all of them but obviously not at the cost of casting aside his son.

Though it often appeared that the party was heading for a split and that either Mulayam Singh Yadav would throw out his son or Akhilesh Yadav would float his own party, the two pulled back from the brink. Each time matters took a turn for the worse, Mulayam Singh Yadav would backtrack, clarifying that he had no plans to replace Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister. The aging party veteran realised that Akhilesh Yadav was the future face of the Samajwadi Party and also the inheritor of his political legacy. Similarly, Akhilesh Yadav did not intend to leave the party, he was essentially fighting to take control of the Samajwadi Party and fend off his uncle Shivpal Yadav’s moves to take over the party.

As things stand today, Shivpal Yadav has been the real loser in this family drama. Confident that he enjoyed Mulayam Singh Yadav’s confidence, he believed that he would be politically rehabilitated. While his own political future now appears bleak, it will be difficult for him to launch his son in politics, which has been on his priority list. In fact, Shivpal Yadav has been successfully defanged. It is unlikely that he will get too much support from his supporters in the party who can be expected to switch loyalties to Akhilesh Yadav, now that he has emerged as the unchallenged leader of the Samajwadi Party.