The immediate provocation seemed the suspension yesterday of two of Akhilesh's closest aides in a move to clip his wings, apparently with the consent of his father and party supreme leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.
This is the first time in years that Akhilesh has missed the inauguration of the high-profile family event, organised every year under Mulayam's stewardship in his ancestral village of Saifai, 240km from Lucknow.
But in attendance was at least one of the women in the family who have mounted a challenge to Akhilesh's claim to be the sole political heir to his father. Aparna, wife of Akhilesh's stepbrother Prateek, sang at the opening ceremony.
Two developments yesterday reflected the growing clout of Shivpal - Mulayam's younger brother, state PWD minister and party general secretary - and Ram Gopal, a cousin, Rajya Sabha member and Samajwadi general secretary.
One, Ram Gopal became the first person apart from Mulayam and national celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan to inaugurate the event. Mulayam and actress-MP Jaya Bachchan, who had opened the celebrations last year, watched from the dais.
[caption id="attachment_266183" align="aligncenter" width="473"] Dharmendra Yadav inaugurates the Indian Rural Cricket League in place of Akhilesh Yadav on Sunday. Pictures by PTI and Naeem Ansari[/caption]
Two, Shivpal announced the suspensions of Anand Bhadauria and Sunil Singh Sajan on the charge of anti-party activities. Party sources said Akhilesh, the Samajwadi state president, wasn't consulted.
Ram Gopal today told reporters the suspensions were not the reason for Akhilesh's absence.
"He is busy elsewhere," the uncle said, before playing down the chief minister's absence. "There were many people here: Mulayam was also present."
Akhilesh did not turn up today, either, to inaugurate the Indian Rural Cricket League, his own brainchild to provide a platform to rural cricketers across the state.
It had earlier been announced that he would be at the 17-day Mahotsav from the beginning and stay on to declare the cricket meet open today.
"We hope he'll attend the Mahotsav after a day or two. Maybe he is waiting for his father to blink and reconsider the suspensions," a source close to Akhilesh said.
While most ministers and senior bureaucrats used to camp in Saifai during the Mahotsav till last year in a show of loyalty to the chief minister, they are now waiting in Lucknow for his decision.
Some party sources alleged that Bhadauria, who had lost last year's general election from Dhaurahara, and Sajan had avoided campaigning for party candidates during the recent panchayat polls. Sajan, who held the rank of a minister of state, was yesterday sacked as adviser to the state dairy development board.
The duo had been integral to Akhilesh's core advisory and policy-making team before and after he became chief minister in March 2012.
Sajan, son of an MTNL lineman, was considered Akhilesh's "eyes and ears" and would keep him abreast of the goings-on in the party.
An early sign that Mulayam was unhappy with his son's team had come in January 2013 when he disbanded four key party committees headed by Akhilesh aides Sajan, Bhadauria, Sanjay Lathar and Amitabh Vajpayee.
"It was as though the father wanted to cut the roots that had grown under his son's feet," a Samajwadi source had then said.
A Mulayam confidant, though, claimed that the foursome had been "hardworking and enthusiastic" before Akhilesh came to power but had succumbed to the trappings of office thereafter.
"They used their proximity to the chief minister to get people jobs and contracts, fix promotions and transfers of government employees, and so on," the source alleged.
The latest setback to Akhilesh comes at a time he has to contend with dynastic intrigue too.
Akhilesh is the son of Mulayam's late first wife, Malti Devi. His 28-year-old stepbrother Prateek, son of Mulayam's second wife Sadhna Gupta, apparently showed no interest in politics and got into real estate, concentrating on building his muscles in his spare time.
But Sadhna and Prateek's wife Aparna apparently began nurturing political ambitions for him after watching Akhilesh climb the ladder and two of Mulayam's nephews and a great-nephew become Lok Sabha members.
Aparna has shown a knack for embarrassing Akhilesh and his "secular" politics with her statements.
She has openly admitted to being a Narendra Modi fan, clicked a selfie with the Prime Minister at a family wedding in Saifai, and chided Aamir Khan for protesting intolerance. Sadhna and Aparna seem to have an ally in Mulayam's sister-in-law Sarla.
Today, Mulayam's nephew and Badaun MP Dharmendra Yadav inaugurated the Rural Cricket League and said: "Akhilesh couldn't come because of other engagements."
Mulayam had looked sombre during his speech last night as he spoke of the rich culture of Uttar Pradesh.
"Our state has given great artistes to Bollywood. They include Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan," he said.
Amitabh, invited along with his wife, didn't come.
A few villagers had begun the Mahotsav in 1997. The following year, Mulayam took over the responsibility of organising it on a bigger scale and named it Ranvir Singh Memorial Saifai Mahotsav in memory of a nephew.
Since then the Yadav family has made it a point to gather in the village during this event, which sees off the old year and welcomes the new.
Bollywood singers Anusha Mani and Aman Trikha today entertained the crowd at the cricket meet, which teams from over 30 districts are contesting.
Movie stars and Ukrainian belly dancers are expected to pep up the event on its last five days, but the actors' names have been kept a secret to whet the audiences' appetite.
Stars such as Hrithik Roshan, Salman Khan, Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone have performed in Saifai in the past.
The Telegraph, Calcutta