I am no expert on UP politics but when Akhilesh first became chief minister, I had written a hopeful article, prophesying that he would take UP in a new direction (IE, March 14, 2012). I had pegged it to OBC desires for education and modernity and pointed out that Akhilesh represented what his father did not — the modernity that youth in UP and everywhere else in India desires. At that point, Mulayam appeared to be the doting father ready to pass on the political mantle to his son while he himself retired, keen to bask in the glow of his son’s accomplishments.
History has since shown how wrong I was on one count; Mulayam has constantly undermined his son and upheld patriarchal dominance and authority in order to retain control over the party. So, uncle Shivpal must come first while the dutiful son takes a back seat. The patrilineal brotherhood — the backbone of agrarian feudalism — must dominate the patrilineal filial tie. Patriarchal family values must be upheld at the expense of the individual holding elected office. Mulayam little realises that in undermining his son, he is undermining the CM’s position — but does he or anyone in India care, given that dynasties reign supreme in several states?
The sociology of family teaches us that in India, we tend to hide internal family fissures to evoke the “family spirit” and extol the joint family ideal. This is necessary as it is the family that is the source of support and sustenance due to lack of any kind of state support. Support is secured through “implicit” intra- and inter-generational contracts — between brothers and sisters, parents and children, and especially between parents and sons. Such “contracts” might not be written down in law but are enforced through moral norms and by ritual practices embedded in life-cycle ceremonies. The ideal of the joint family continues to be upheld as India’s civilisational pride even as it is revealed to be a site of unequal distribution of resources, emotional and property conflicts, gender violence and much else. However, despite this unveiling of the conflicts within the family, many sociologists argue that inter-generational familial contracts are not disintegrating but are simply being renegotiated.
Is Akhilesh finally going to rebel against the dominant patriarch? Will Indian society forgive him for doing so? Will he be allowed to run the party or win elections in 2017 without Mulayam’s blessings? These are the questions that he must be struggling with.
I would assert once again that the macro picture is on Akhilesh’s side. The history that awaits to be written will not be written by Mulayam’s cohort but by Akhilesh’s — the youth. UP is often seen as a slow transformer but that is because people tend to see it as a monolithic cesspool of poverty and backwardness. However, fieldwork shows vast transformations occurring in how the youth see their lives and the futures they seek. There are some telling figures on education, especially female education, in the state. In 2011, 69.4 per cent boys and 70.4 per cent girls were being educated from grades one to 12 — a tremendous catch up. Even more surprising, in the 18-23 age group (higher education), the percentage of boys being educated was 15.2 while that of girls was 17.4. This is a startling reversal in the gender gap in education and one that holds major implications for all aspects of life, including political choices.
Unsurprisingly, more women appear to be on Akhilesh’s side than on Mulayam’s. Mulayam’s “boys will be boys” type of opinions regarding sexual harassment and rape are unlikely to garner him additional votes. People realise that Mulayam has checked out while his son is more in tune with youth’s aspirations. Mulayam is a Luddite in his resistance to technology and the English language. Akhilesh’s views are diametrically opposite. As a young CM, he can also sense the competition in the air as far as development of states is concerned and realises that reputations in his political cohort are being made on how well one’s state is doing. Merely inheriting the family political mantle is no longer enough. Yet, for this election, how he handles the generational battle will be crucial.