"I work with my father and uncles. Whatever they tell me, or I tell them, is between us. The final decision will be what is right and correct" - Akhilesh Yadav, chief minister, UP
The clannish Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh were taken aback when Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav forced the Samajwadi Party to roll back a political merger that had the blessings of the elders in his family. It was earlier felt that Akhilesh was being sidelined by uncle and minister Shivpal Yadav, and other senior leaders of the party. But, with this move, Akhilesh has asserted himself ahead of the UP assembly polls in 2017.
When Akhilesh was not in Lucknow, Shivpal announced that the Quami Ekta Dal, an eastern UP-based party, had merged with the SP. The QED is led by the Ansari brothers—Afzal, Mukhtar and Sibgatulla. Mukhtar is MLA from Mau, and Sibgatulla from Mohammadabad. The merger was engineered by minister Balram Yadav, a close confidant of Akhilesh's father, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Enraged by the merger and by the way it was carried out, Akhilesh fired Balram. The chief minister's stand was that the merger was a setback to his attempts to clean the SP. And, true to his words, the opposition went to town over the merger.
The QED was founded in 1995 by Mukhtar, who is in jail over murder charges. In 1996, he became an MLA. And, over time, locked horns with mafia don Brijesh Singh. In the 2002 assembly polls, Krishnanand Rai, Brijesh's right-hand man, defeated Afzal, a five-time MLA. Rai was soon found murdered. The charge was that the humiliated Ansaris had commissioned the hit. Mukhtar is the prime accused in the case.
When the Bahujan Samaj Party under chief minister Mayawati came to power, Mukhtar joined the party. He was expelled when his name figured in the Ramdin Maurya murder case. Currently, there are 15 criminal cases against him, ranging from murder, attempt to murder and instigating riots in Mau and Ghazipur.
On the eve of the assembly polls, the SP could not afford to be associated with the QED and the Ansaris. The riots in Mathura and the communal crisis in Kairana had given the impression that law and order was lax in UP. Now, an alleged mafia don's party was merging with the ruling SP. Hence, Akhilesh's anger.
Shivpal had said that the merger would consolidate votes for the SP and had the consent of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Political observers said the comment had two intentions—to quell intra-party dissent over the merger and to warn Akhilesh that his father had cleared the move. The move, Shivpal hoped, would put Muslim votes in the SP's kitty and serve as an advantage in eastern UP.
But, a belligerent Akhilesh was in no mood to accept the Ansaris. So, Mulayam was forced to convene the parliamentary board of the party. Akhilesh said, “There is no place for people like Mukhtar in the Samajwadi Party.” Sensing Akhilesh's combative mood, the board voted to roll back the merger. Political observers said that this is the first time that Mulayam had to go back on a decision he had backed.
Ramgopal Yadav, SP national general secretary and Mulayam's brother, said, “The chief minister was angry about the merger. The parliamentary board is the apex body regarding party policies and guidelines. It has turned down the merger. So, the matter is now ended. And, the chief minister is happy.”
In 2012, too, a similar situation had arisen. Senior SP leaders, including Shivpal, favoured fielding D.P. Yadav, a tainted politician from western UP, in the assembly elections. He had been part of the SP, BSP and BJP, and, in 2007, had formed the Rashtriya Parivartan Dal. Charges against him included murder, attempt to murder, dacoity, extortion and kidnapping. He was jailed under the National Security Act when Kalyan Singh was chief minister.
In one case in Haryana, he was charged with supplying hooch which caused 300 deaths. He had allegedly been into bootlegging since 1970, and his son, Vikas Yadav, was accused in the high-profile Nitesh Katara murder case. So, Akhilesh strongly opposed the move to give him a ticket. D.P. Yadav was a four-time MLA and two-time MP, and Akhilesh's public stand against him was widely hailed.
After becoming chief minister in 2012, Akhilesh had chosen not to publicly disagree with party decisions. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Mulayam had backed the tainted Atiq Ahmed from Sultanpur. But, Akhilesh held his peace.
In 2015, Akhilesh's close confidants Sunil Yadav and Anand Bhadoria were expelled from the SP by Mulayam, for anti-party activities. It was rumoured that the expulsion was engineered by senior leaders jealous of the duo's bond with the chief minister. Akhilesh had then showed his displeasure over their ouster by skipping the inauguration of the Saifai Mahotsav, a prestigious annual festival organised by the SP in Mulayam's pocket borough. He also skipped the Indian Rural Cricket league, an event close to his heart. But, he did not publicly voice his anger.
After the Mathura riots in the first week of June, BJP national president Amit Shah openly accused Shivpal of supporting Ram Vrikhsa Yadav, head of the cult at the centre of the riots. Then, too, Akhilesh held his peace. But, the QED merger was the last straw.
In a masterstroke, Akhilesh took back the sacked Balram Yadav. And, he also quashed all speculation about intra-family strife. “I work with my father and uncles,” he said. “Whatever they tell me, or I tell them, is between us. The final decision will be what is right and correct. There is no difference between us.”