Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav faces a paradox that none of his predecessors have experienced while aspiring for a re-election.
Though Akhilesh, 43, is considered a favourite candidate for the top job, his party – both before and after the Yadav family feud – was not poised for an easy romp home.
For a moment it appeared that it would be Akhilesh all the way when the Congress, a political rival, allied with the Samajwadi Party and the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi called for the crowning of Akhilesh as CM again.
The Congress may have curtailed anti-incumbency factor for the SP but the rivals, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, started firing on all cylinders.
The BJP did not want to take a chance in UP as it had a bitter experience in Bihar assembly elections where the grand alliance, with Nitish Kumar as its face, had ruined its prospects.
Prof SK Dwivedi, a political analyst and former head of the department of political science at Lucknow University, said there was no anti-incumbency against Akhilesh, yet he faced it.
“There is a strong anti-incumbency factor working against his (Akhilesh’s) party,” he said.
For four years, Akhilesh fought the tag of ‘three-and-a-half chief ministers’ that signified he was remote-controlled by his father and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, uncle Shivpal Yadav, and senior cabinet colleague Azam Khan.
Now, when he has managed to shake off the image and turned “experienced” from “inexperienced”, he faces the enemies within.
By the time Akhilesh took over as the national president of the Samajwadi Party, it was too late for him to control the inner contradictions of the party.
SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav has stayed away from Akhilesh’s poll campaign which has not gone down well with the voters, especially Muslims.
If Akhilesh made it “his” election, the BJP and the BSP also used the faces of Modi and Mayawati to take on the rivals.
The BSP is campaigning with the slogan – ‘Behenji ko aane do’.
“Akhilesh is facing twin anti-incumbency. One from political rivals outside the SP and the other from within the Yadav family,” said Dwivedi.
The observations of the political analyst reflect well in the unscholarly and unabashed opinion of a rural voter Ram Karan Gupta who runs a tea stall on the highway on the outskirts of Mahoba.
“As of now it looks the BJP will win the elections. The Samajwadi Party has gone for a toss. Father, son and uncles in the Yadav family have fought it out among themselves. The fact, however, remains that there is no well meaning politician like Akhilesh in the country,” he said while frying ‘samosas’ and ‘paneer pakoras’ for highway travellers.
The Yadav family feud which surfaced in August last year has left an impact in rural areas. Almost everyone has an opinion and no one has anything pleasant to say.
“Displacement of the father by a son has not gone down well with the villagers,” said Tara Yadav of Etawah.
The BSP and the BJP have being harping on the issue to paint Akhilesh as villain. Mayawati even tried to project Shivpal as a victim in the feud to consolidate her Dalit vote bank and walk away with SP’s Muslim votes.
“Muslims were certainly confused. The poll results will show if the divide between the father and the son has split the Muslims too,” said an office-bearer of the Azamgarh unit of the Samajwadi Party.
Towards the end of his term, Akhilesh tried to consolidate his image of a leader with focus on development. Ahead of poll notification, he made a number of announcements and went on an inauguration spree.
In a day, Akhilesh launched 910 projects worth over ₹2,000 crore. Prior to this, he flagged off Lucknow metro train and inaugurated the Lucknow-Agra Expressway.
But as the poll campaign began, Modi lost no time is attempting to puncture Akhilesh’s slogan of ‘Kaam bolta hai’ (work speaks) with ‘Kaarnamey boltey hain (deeds are showing).
By this time, one of Akhilesh’s ministers and the party’s candidate from Amethi, Gayatri Prasad Prajapati was accused of rape. This blunted Akhilesh’s stand against criminal elements in the party.
In the last three phases of UP elections, the BJP and the BSP used Prajapati’s name to attack Akhilesh.
“Akhilesh has people’s sympathies and has won the sobriquet of ‘development man’ but he cannot win the election on his own. His young loyalists indulge in rabble rousing but cannot solve the caste and religion arithmetic. Election results will prove this,” said a Samajwadi Party old guard who is also an Akhilesh sympathiser.
In the last four phases, Kannauj MP and Akhilesh’s wife, Dimple Yadav, has been lending a helping hand to the campaign. So much so that she joined the ‘rath yatra’ of Akhilesh and Rahul in Varanasi on Saturday.
Their road show in Varanasi was as formidable as Modi’s event the same morning. Who emerges the winner – Akhilesh or Modi – will be clear on March 11. Or will it be Mayawati?