With barely months to go for assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, at a time when the Samajwadi Party (SP) has just kick-started its poll campaign with last week’s ‘Mulayam Sandesh Rath Yatra’, the ruling party appears to be heading towards a fresh rift within ‘family’ as Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in Tuesday removed Deepak Singhal as chief secretary. Singhal, a 1982-batch IAS officer, has been replaced by his junior, Rahul Prasad Bhatnagar a 1983 batch IAS officer. The move comes just two months after his appointment — Singhal had taken charge of chief secretary on July 6.
Akhilesh seems to be in no mood to make any compromises with the ‘family’ on the issue of administration. On Monday he had dismissed two high-profile ministers — Mining Minister Gayatri Prajapati and Panchayati Raj Minister Raj Kishor Singh — reportedly over charges of alleged corruption. Sources in the SP said that Akhilesh wants to enter the elections with a ‘clean image’ for which he had also foregone the merger of mafia-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal (QED) with the SP in June, thus creating a rift between him and his uncle Shivpal Yadav.
“By removing ministers and the chief secretary, Akhilesh has tried to send out a message before the polls that he is the CM and the only centre of power in the government and that he has the courage to take tough decisions,” explained SP leader.
The two sacked ministers were close to SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and had continued in power despite repeated complaints against them from cabinet ministers, MLAs as well as written complaints from opposition parties. Mulayam said in Delhi that he had learnt about the dismissals of the ministers through the media, indicating that Akhilesh did not consult him before sacking the ministers.
Within 24-hours of their ouster, the CM removed Singhal who is believed to be very close to Shivpal Singh Yadav, cabinet colleague and Mulayam Singh’s brother.
Singhal, who held significant posts when Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister, had been Principal Secretary in the Irrigation Department—a portfolio held by Shivpal—since the present government was formed in 2012. “Singhal was considered very close to Shivpal and Akhilesh’s decision could lead to more differences between Akhilesh and his uncle Shivpal.” a SP leader said. The rift between the two first became apparent when Akhilesh opposed the merger of the QED with the SP- a move initiated by Shivpal.
The decision of SP’s national parliamentary board to call off merger of QED under pressure from Akhilesh had annoyed Shivpal. Miffed, Shivpal skipped the swearing-in of new ministers on June 27; on June 29 he seemed to be sulking at brother Ramgopal Yadav’s birthday celebrations in Lucknow.
Last month, Mulayam backed Shivpal and took on the state government stating that several cabinet ministers were involved in illegal money deals. Mulayam’s statement had come a day after Shivpal pointed to corruption within the ruling establishment and had threatened to resign.
Addressing SP workers at the party’s headquarters after a flag-hoisting ceremony on August 15, Mulayam had said the party would split into several factions and many workers will go with Shivpal if he were to leave the party. Stressing that there was a conspiracy against Shivpal from within the party, Mulayam said he had stopped his younger brother from quitting.
Mulayam had also said Shivpal was upset because one person was “looting” and amassing illegal wealth from Etawah, Mainpuri and Agra but no action was being taken against the individual. In an indication that all is not well in the SP, Mulayam reportedly said, “Agar main khada ho gaya to sarkar ki aisi-taisi ho jayegi (if I raise issues, the government will have a tough time answering).”