“You journalists have this misconception that elections are won by doing development. Didn’t you see how Chandrababu Naidu could not get a second term after undertaking such development that won Hyderabad the title of India’s cyber capital?” That used to be Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s refrain whenever he was asked why he focused just on caste configurations to win elections. “Elections in this country are all about getting your caste equations right,” he would add. After all, Mulayam’s strength was born as a consequence of the Mandalisation of Indian politics that had propelled him from a rustic legislator from the badlands of Uttar Pradesh to a mass leader in the country’s electorally most crucial state.
Two decades later, when his forward-looking western-educated son Akhilesh was hoping to prove his father wrong by marching into the 2017 state assembly poll arena, armed with a bagful of ‘development’ trophies, he had not imagined even his wildest of dreams that he would witness the most devastating defeat of his life.
He went about showcasing his visible achievements — the six-lane 301-km-long Lucknow-Agra access-controlled expressway, the Lucknow metro-rail, the IT city as well as the state’s first world-class cricket stadium — under his slogan “Kaam bolta hai”. Akhilesh’s oft-repeated quote: “If you double the speed, you can triple the pace of development,” too got a lot of play.
Having just broken away from the shackles of his overbearing father and uncles, after a murky family feud, 43-year old Akhilesh was brimming with confidence. Considering that none of his opponents (including Modi) would be able to match his narrative on development, Akhilesh sought to turn the focus on other realpolitik issues. What followed was a hastily struck alliance with Rahul Gandhi’s Congress: evidently in the hope that it would help consolidate the 20% Muslim vote that he feared could be split by the BSP’s blatant overtures. The tie-up was also aimed at wooing the youth, who had made all the difference to Akhilesh when he led his party to a 224-seat (in a 403-member house) win in 2012, beating his own father’s past records.
But when it came down to brass tacks, the voter chose to go with Modi’s promises on development rather than Akhilesh’s projects accomplished well ahead of schedule. Team Modi’s well-orchestrated campaign to dismiss Akhilesh’s “achievements” as “half-baked”,”incomplete” and “half- done” turned louder in the face of the chief minister’s oft repeated ‘development’ pronouncements, supported by a sustained high profile, multi-billion advertising campaign.
After all, all the work Akhilesh had done was Lucknow-centric. What he was not able to drive home was that the other parts of the state too would taste the fruits of development if the voters there gave him a second term. Team Modi’s efforts to spread the word that Akhilesh’s development was essentially meant for the affluent living in the state capital seemed to have trickled down, thereby spelling a virtual rout for the SP.
What led to a loss of credibility for Akhilesh , who was seen as a harbinger of “hope” by the people of the state who gave him impressive numbers in 2012, was his track record of governance. Even as he might have scored on ‘development’, it got eclipsed by his poor grip on law and order, unabated heinous crimes and rampant corruption. The loss of credibility got heightened when, far from taking action against his mining minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati , accused of gang-rape, Akhilesh went to the extent of campaigning for him . Surely, that was bound to raise questions about the CM’s much-hyped women helpline and dial 100 schemes.
The loss of face made it convenient for both team Modi as well as Bua Mayawati to discredit even Akhilesh’s very positive health and social security schemes such as Dial 102 or 108 (for 24X7 free ambulance service) and ‘pension for the poor’ (Samajwadi Pension). Even his free laptop distribution, which has been copied by the BJP in its 2017 manifesto, failed to reap electoral dividends for the Samajwadi Party. Akhilesh’s plea about the development narrative getting systematically bulldozed with Modi harping on ‘shamshan’, ‘kabristan’ , Ramzaan’, ‘Eid’ and ‘Diwali’ could have held if Modi’s victory was limited to a simple majority . This is surely a Modi ‘tsunami’.
Akhilesh’s ‘development’ got easily negated because it was not backed by conviction and trust, something that Modi managed to convey through his gift of the gab.
Sharat Pradhan is a senior journalist and political commentator based in Lucknow. The views expressed are personal