He emerged on top after months of an ugly, bitter family feud but mother of all battles awaits chief minister Akhilesh Yadav – the Uttar Pradesh assembly state election.
Win or lose, buck will stop with Akhilesh, who ousted father Mulayam Singh to snatch control of the ruling Samajwadi Party three days before elections were called.
But, the 43-year-old is showing no signs of nerves and is battle-ready, drawing strength from wife Dimple, a member of Parliament from Kannauj.
In a Facebook live session with senior resident editor Sunita Aron on Thursday, the UP’s first couple talk about the family feud, politics and of course, the ongoing state election, showing a deep understanding of each other.
Q: The family feud - how difficult was it for you?
Dimple: Initially it was very difficult rather extremely difficult but as time passed, things started to settle down. Now the work has begun and elections are on. We are expecting positive results.
Q: Was she a pillar of support for you?
Akhilesh: Who else can you trust or believe in such difficult times? Only your wife can stand by you in such a crisis. Such phases come in everyone’s life when some hard decisions have to be taken. Things come to a halt. I am very sure public and party workers will stand by us in the election. We have achieved so much. We have given inclusive and balanced growth and we will step it up after coming to power.
Q: How did you protect your children – the family feud was talked about everywhere?
Dimple: Due to technology it was difficult to keep them away from media reports. But today’s children understand situations. They love their grandfather as well as their father. I don’t think they were adversely impacted -- they don’t watch news. They watch the channels they like.
Q: For the first time you are extensively campaigning in the state. Was it because you thought Akhilesh was lonely?
Dimple: No, there is support from all sides. But, UP is a huge state and there is very little time left. As directed by the party, I am campaigning for woman candidates and I am overwhelmed by the response, especially of the youth and women. I feel welcomed and loved.
Q: Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said you have allied with a party that tried to kill your father in 1984.
Akhilesh: I don’t know why PM spoke about 1984. If he wanted to provoke me into snapping alliance with the Congress then he should have spoken about the Ferozabad election in which the Congress defeated Dimple. This is politics and the Congress was an opposition party.
Q: Is the BJP trying to fan differences within the family or needle your father who was not in favour of an alliance with the Congress?
Akhilesh: It appears the success of the Congress-SP alliance has rattled the BJP leadership. As a strategy, they want to create differences between the partners. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and many other senior leaders had said when the Congress would be at its weakest, it would be closest to the Samajwadis. The Congress is weak and we have joined hands to defeat communal forces. We are good friends, we both have compromised during seat-sharing. This happens in election and politics.
Q: So, you think the alliance was the right step?
Akhilesh: I think alliance is good for the state and the country. Decisions are driven by circumstances. The time demanded it and I am confident results are going to be positive.
Q: Both you and Rahul seem to click well. How has it been to share dais with him?
Akhilesh: I have met Rahul several times; we were together in the Lok Sabha. He wants to do a lot for the country. Now that we have an alliance, we can share ideas, implement some of those in UP. Two young leaders, with contemporary vision, want to deliver in politics and with the blessings of the elders, results will be positive.
Q: Recently Prime Minister Modi described himself as the adopted son of UP to blunt the “UP ke ladke” campaign of the alliance.
Akhilesh: The Prime Minister says he was called by Ganga maiya and he is UP’s adopted son. We will ask the people when will they adopt us or accept us as their sons and give us an opportunity to serve the state. In a democracy, people give power to you and they punish those who hurt them.
Q: You think demonetisation is a major poll issue?
Akhilesh: People have suffered greatly because of demonetisation and now the government has moved away from the core principles of the note ban as it is unable to answer how much black money has it recovered.
I have always said money is never black or white but transactions are. Instead of demonetisation, the Centre should have educated the people about such transactions.
Q: People were expecting joint rallies by Dimple and Priyanka, and by all of you?
Dimple: No such plan. It is for the two parties to decide.
Akhilesh: We didn’t even discuss rallies by the four of us – it’s all media created. It is parties decision to take. But such a major election will not be fought again -- people will have to wait a long time. In politics I don’t think one should wait and miss opportunities.
Q: Young have the energy and enthusiasm but some BJP leaders say they lack experience.
Akhilesh: Senior BJP leaders may be trying to cover up their failures. Practice makes a man perfect. We learnt to drive cycle, we fell down several times but now we are cruising ahead. Now is the time for them to display their experience .Tell me about a state which developed an access-controlled expressway in just 22 months, distributed 18 lakh laptops without a single complaint in procurement or distribution, did direct transfer of Samajwadi pension to 55 lakh people. The river front development will be at par with what you see in US and Dubai. I want to know which chief minister has done the amount (of work) we have done in every sector?
Q: You think the youth will support the young leadership cutting across caste and religious lines?
Dimple: That results will tell. Youngsters are intelligent and they have seen his work. They also know he will stay in Lucknow and work for the state. They also realise the progress UP made in the last five years. I will appeal to the youth to press the cycle button.
Q: You both campaigned for sister-in-law Aparna Yadav but avoided rallies in Jaswantnagar from where your uncle Shivpal Singh is a candidate.
Akhilesh: His symbol is also cycle and I campaigned in a nearby constituency. He will win.
Q: But, you said in Mainpuri that first some people wanted to snatch your cycle and now they want to defeat it. Who were you talking about?
Akhilesh: Some people are trying to sabotage this election, defeat our candidates. The message was for my party workers.
Q: Main challenges?
Akhilesh: We will form the government. I appeal to people to give us a majority if they want the CM to function and deliver. UP is a big state and its development will take time. We have big plans. PM says UP is down and down while we have development to show.
Q: What’s your plan B if you don’t get a majority?
Akhilesh: There is never a plan B in politics. I trust public and they have faith in us. After second phase of the polls, we are far ahead of our opponents. The BSP is trying to convince it will not build more statues, the PM is raising thana-level issues while we have implemented the best possible system to improve law and order -- Dial 100.
Q: What after elections?
Dimple: Perhaps a holiday.
Q: You come from an apolitical family? Does politics excite you?
Dimple: No, it is not exciting at all. I am here to support my husband.
Q: Any book or music you read/heard lately?
Akhilesh: No, I did not get time to read a book. But I am listening to Heathens (Twenty One Pilots), which my children greatly enjoy.
Q: Anything on US President Donald Trump?
Akhilesh: I am quite away from the US politics.