India’s bicycle parties and their family fights

Read Time: 3 minutes

2017 is 1995 revisited. Only the place and the central characters of the political drama are different. From Hyderabad to Lucknow, the template of palace coups has remained the same.

Almost 22 years back, NT Rama Rao, the founder of the Telugu Desam, was overthrown by his son-in-law, Chandrababu Naidu. NTR expelled Naidu and his friends, but found that the young Turk had the support of the majority of the legislators. The actor-turned-politician was a broken man as he saw before his own eyes, the party he had founded turning against him, being hijacked by the men and women he gave a break in politics.

In the winter of his political career, Mulayam Singh Yadav faces an NTR-ian dilemma – to expel or not to expel. He expelled cousin Ramgopal Yadav on Friday, revoked it on Saturday and expelled him again on Sunday. At this rate, Uttar Pradesh will need to employ the DRS (Decision Review System in cricket) to find out who is out and who is not out.

The uncanny similarities do not end there. At the heart of this Pari-war, is what is crudely referred to as a “dusht-sakti”. In Andhra Pradesh, the blame fell on Lakshmi Parvati, the second wife of NTR who he married in 1993. The thespian’s 12 children and their spouses never approved of NTR’s relationship with a much younger woman and felt threatened by the control Parvati exerted over him. Whispers began suggesting that she could even be NTR’s chosen one to succeed him. That was unpalatable to the political ambitions of others in the TDP.

In the longest running soap opera north of the Vindhyas, Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh is vilified as the evil force. He is seen as the ‘outsider’, engineering a split in the Samajwadi family. Even though the Thakur, once a powerful mover and shaker in Lutyens Delhi, is now a pale shadow of his old self, he has a strange hold over Mulayam. But just like Lakshmi Parvati was anathema for Naidu in 1995, getting Amar Singh thrown out of the Samajwadi Party has been on Akhilesh Yadav’s bucket list for long.

Add Sadhna Singh, Akhilesh’s stepmother to the list and the plot thickens. Aparna, the wife of Prateek Yadav, Mulayam’s son from his marriage to Sadhna, is going to fight the 2017 assembly elections from Lucknow, staking claim to political power as well.

A common election symbol – the bicycle – makes the TDP and SP fellow road travellers as well. The two parties were extremely close during the days of the United Front governments between 1996 and 1998. Naidu was the convenor of the Front and Mulayam-Amar Singh duo a powerful Jai-Viru like jodi.

It is too late now but Mulayam would have done well to learn a lesson or two from the NTR episode. The Andhra movie legend was never the typical crafty politician. Nor did NTR fully understand the intricacies of administration, choosing to take decisions on the spur of the moment. Having been an extremely popular filmstar, NTR lived in the world of make believe, where no onscreen villain could vanquish NTR, the hero. His temperamental nature meant those in the party were too scared to approach him and give him frank opinion.

The mistake NTR made was he never invested in having his ear to the ground. His intelligence network also never let him know that there was a palace coup brewing in his backyard. By the time, he angrily said “Chandrababu”, it was too late. Naidu’s defence was that he did what he did to save the party, similar to what Akhilesh is saying now, that he wants to protect his father.

It is the same surprise Mulayam must have felt when he saw 200 of the 229 SP legislators choosing Bhaiyaji Akhilesh over Netaji Mulayam. The ground has slipped from under his feet as Mulayam had relied entirely on brother Shivpal Singh Yadav and Amar Singh who had led him to believe that in his akhara, the wrestler-turned-politician could lose no dangal. As 2016 moved on to 2017, son Akhilesh beat him at his own game.

Part of the reason also was that both NTR and Mulayam dreamt of New Delhi. NTR always wanted to be Prime Minister. He would have thought he had a chance in 1989 when the National Front, of which he was the President came to power. But he fared dismally in Andhra Pradesh, winning 2 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state and VP Singh became PM.

Similarly, Mulayam fancied his chances to become PM when Deve Gowda and IK Gujral were forced to quit. Now 77, Mulayam wants a Raisina Hills address for himself. Grapevine suggests that Amar Singh has perhaps led him up the Mughal Gardens path.

Ever since Akhilesh led the SP to victory in the 2012 polls and became CM, TDP leaders have often suggested that Chandrababu Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh should take a leaf out of the Samajwadi book. That like Tipu, as Akhilesh is called, Lokesh too should aspire to succeed his father as Sultan. But after the manner in which Mulayam has suffered a sun-stroke, it is doubtful if the TDP will look to the Lucknow script for inspiration.

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