Family feud may determine political future of India’s largest state in next month’s elections
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav executed a hostile takeover of the socialist Samajwadi Party, toppling his own father, Mulayam Singh Yadav
After being tongue-lashed and expelled from his own party, the leader of India’s largest state had two options: bow to the will of his father or commit political patricide weeks before an election.
“Giving up power in old age is something that doesn’t happen in India ... so we now have a patricidal war in Uttar Pradesh,” said PR Ramesh, an editor at the Delhi-based Open magazine.
Politics in India has long been a family affair, dominated by clans such as the Gandhis who have provided three prime ministers and now lead the main opposition party. But even in a country used to dynastic feuds, the battle between Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav has been gripping stuff.
After paving the way for his Australian-educated son to become chief minister following state polls five years ago, the 77-year-old Mulayam continued to lead the socialist Samajwadi Party (SP).
During his term in charge of the state – which has a population of about 215 million – Akhilesh has frequently bitten his tongue following criticism from his father, a former Indian defence minister.
The older man has also been a source of embarrassment, especially after saying of a high-profile rape case that “boys will be boys”. But with state elections starting next month, the 43-year-old Akhilesh has been trying to assert his authority by publicly admonishing his father and sacking an uncle.
A furious Mulayam responded by expelling his son from the SP on Friday but then found the tables had been turned as Akhilesh engineered a hostile takeover of the party and was elected its president.
“Who made him chief minister?” Mulayam said to reporters. “He doesn’t seem to understand that his future is now doomed. He is not even listening to my advice.”
Analysts say part of the fascination of the Yadav saga is Akhilesh’s refusal to follow convention and yield to his father.
Rahul Gandhi – whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all premiers – was the centre-left Congress’s frontman in the last general election but his 70-year-old mother Sonia remains party president and calls the shots.
The 89-year-old Prakash Singh Badal is bidding to remain chief minister when Punjab holds state elections next month, meaning his son and deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal, 54, will again have to bide his time.
And in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, five-time former chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi is clinging on as leader of the DMK party aged 92 while two sons position themselves as his political heir.
Sunita Aron, author of a book called The Dynasty: Born to Rule, said it was frowned upon for India’s political princelings to criticise their fathers – regardless of the provocation.
“Akhilesh was humiliated from day one but ... no one can afford to be seen to be harsh to their elders,” she said. “As long as he’s alive, it is the father who is the head of the family, and takes all the decisions on the family and business front.”
The analyst Ramesh agreed any show of disrespect does “not go down well with the public” and was the reason why Akhilesh still stressed his love for his father.
In his speech after ousting his father, Akhilesh said: “No matter what happens, nothing can change our relationship. He is my father and I am his son.”
Despite being the world’s largest democracy, the cost of campaigning means candidates often have to rely on family connections when running for office at national or state level.
A quarter of MPs elected in the 2014 election are from political dynasties while a study by The Hindu newspaper found all five Samajwadi representatives in the Lok Sabha were related to the Yadavs.