The two Yadav bahus on two sides
2012: The first warning had come from such an unlikely source that Akhilesh Yadav could scarcely believe it. It was wife Dimple, telling him that a conspiracy was brewing against him in his family.
2015: The picture looked so unlikely that many in the Samajwadi Party struggled to digest it. Aparna, wife of Mulayam Singh Yadav's younger son Prateek, had taken a dualfie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, her father-in-law's political and ideological opponent.
Mulayam Singh's two bahus are hardly peas in a pod. Dimple, a 38-year-old MP, is an introvert happy in her husband's shadow. Aparna, in her late 20s and set to make her electoral debut in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls, is more outgoing and is in politics as a substitute for her husband whose interests lie elsewhere.
Dimple, a commerce graduate and daughter of an army officer, had spent her early life in fortified cantonments far away from politics. Aparna, a singer and daughter of a former journalist who hobnobbed socially with political bigwigs, grew up mingling with the powerful at her birthday parties in Lucknow.
Yet the two women have one thing in common. Both have broken through Mulayam's allergy to women contesting elections. Both also have access to ringside seats to one of the most riveting political episodes in the heartland in recent memory.
The Samajwadi patriarch had been the first to object when Akhilesh demanded in late 2009 that Dimple be fielded in the by-election to the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat, which he had just given up to retain his other constituency, Kannauj.
Mulayam eventually blinked before Akhilesh's persistence - not the only time the son has got his way, as recent events show.
While the father would break, he would not bend. Just a few months on, in March 2010, he made his attitude towards women legislators clear in a public speech, saying: "Young men will whistle at them from behind when the wives and daughters of industrialists and officers are elected MPs."
He went on: "I'm not kidding. Believe me, it's going to happen very soon if we don't oppose the bill and stop the Congress."
The Samajwadi boss was opposing the then UPA government's women's reservation bill that looked to earmark a third of Parliament and state legislature seats for women. A decade earlier, Mulayam had opposed Akhilesh's marriage with Dimple because she was a Thakur, seeing in the union an affront to his OBC politics.
But once he had agreed to Dimple's candidature for the November 2009 by-election, it became a prestige battle for Mulayam. Unwilling to see a family member humbled, he threw himself into the campaign.
While Dimple didn't manage to speak longer than five minutes at any of her rallies, her father-in-law exhorted Firozabad, his family fief, to support his " bahu".
Dimple lost but made it to the Lok Sabha from Kannauj in 2012 when Akhilesh resigned from Parliament after taking over as chief minister. She retained the seat in 2014 amid a BJP sweep in the state.
The mother of three is still not much of an orator. But she tries her best to support her husband before the media by describing his every move, from laptop distribution to highway building, as "historic". Dimple also handles Akhilesh's Facebook and Twitter accounts efficiently.
But for all her supposed political naivety, she had sensed impending danger before Akhilesh - just after he had become chief minister in March 2012, an intelligence official told The Telegraph.
"Sadhana Gupta, Mulayam's second wife and Akhilesh's stepmother, wanted her son Prateek to be Mulayam's successor," he said. "When Prateek chose the real estate business over politics, she decided to pit daughter-in-law Aparna against Akhilesh."
The officer said that Akhilesh initially laughed Dimple's fears away. But he was eventually persuaded. He began visiting his father every day after work, driving from his 5 Kalidas Marg residence to 5 Vikramaditya Marg "to prevent anyone poisoning Mulayam's mind against him".
"When Sadhana and Mulayam's younger brother Shivpal still showed themselves capable of creating problems for Akhilesh from Mulayam's house, the chief minister shifted to 4 Vikramaditya Marg, next door to his father, a few months ago," the officer said.
The past three months' events have proved how well Dimple has developed her political antennae although she has maintained a dignified silence in public. Aparna, in contrast, showed her political savvy long before she entered active politics.
"She is an extrovert and knows how to establish herself anywhere. She changed everything from the curtains to the sofas at Mulayam's home soon after her marriage in 2011," a source in the family said.
Her father Arvind Singh Bist was appointed state information commissioner in 2014. Dimple's father R.C. Singh Rawat lives a retired life away from the public eye in Almora.
Aparna's relationship with Prateek had bloomed while he was doing his master's in management at Leeds University and she her postgraduation in international relations at the University of Manchester.
This time, Mulayam didn't resist the marriage although Aparna too is a Thakur. The young couple have a daughter.
"Aparna showed her independence right from the start. Coached by her father and now her mother-in-law, she started praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 to seek Mulayam's attention," the intelligence officer said.
"Shivpal, who wanted someone in the family to undercut Akhilesh, saw her potential." Shivpal declared Aparna's nomination from the Lucknow Cantonment Assembly seat last March, long before any other candidate had been picked.
If Dimple has stayed dutifully within the bounds of traditional Samajwadi politics, Aparna has often overstepped them, as with her dualfie with Modi at the tilak ceremony of Mulayam's great-nephew Tejpal ahead of his marriage with Lalu Prasad's daughter Raj Laxmi.
She again crossed the ideological boundary in November 2015, appearing to stand with the BJP after actor Aamir Khan spoke of "rising intolerance" and revealed that his wife had suggested they move out of India.
"Despite playing the role of a patriot on screen, he failed to instil patriotic values in his wife," Aparna had said of Aamir.
Last October, she met Union home minister Rajnath Singh, the BJP's Thakur face in Uttar Pradesh, and touched his feet. Sources in the BJP said Rajnath gave her his blessings for the election, where their parties would be rivals.
-The Telegraph Calcutta
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