A generational shift in Indian politics has started from Uttar Pradesh where two young scions — chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi — joined hands on Sunday to challenge the formidable common foe, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the upcoming polls.
The relationship could eventually turn into a pivot for anti-BJP forces at the national level, though much would depend on the performance of the Congress-SP alliance in the ensuing polls. If they manage to move the two vote blocs of youth and women in their favour, the caste-ridden politics of the state will drastically change. However, for this they will have to cut into the youth support base of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Their chemistry on display was enough indicator of their decision to create history that has remained rooted in their historical differences. The two dressed in white kurta and black waistcoat looked comfortable with each other, no signs of strains. This was unlike the atmosphere during the announcement of the alliance by state chiefs Naresh Uttam and Raj Babbar a few days ago — their discomfort too evident to go unnoticed.
According to political experts, a more grounded Akhilesh and suave Rahul could complement each other. Prof Sudhir Panwar of Lucknow University says, “Their vote bank is compatible and transferable.”
According to him, the alliance may continue till 2019 though both Rahul and Akhilesh were non-committal on the subject. Once Mulayam Singh Yadav, cautioning Sonia Gandhi of the BJP’s propaganda-based politics, had said, “We can only come to power at the Centre with your help.” Akhilesh, too, had said in a lighter vein, ‘We are willing to support the Congress in UP if it reciprocates it at the Centre. Netaji has had a long wait to be Prime Minister.”
A political expert says, “Politics is all about possibilities. What if the country has a hung Parliament post 2019 elections and a third force forms the government with Congress support?”
However, as of now the alliance’s future depends on its performance in UP. After an impressive head start, the challenge before the young leadership would be to ensure that their friendliness percolates down to the cadre level, who are more used to attacking each other.
It is a known fact that the Samajwadi Party was raised on anti-Congress slogans of Ram Manohar Lohia. During his lifetime, the Congress was a bigger threat than the BJP.
Second, the two parties suffered from trust deficiency following some bitter incidents such as Mulayam ditching Sonia from becoming Prime Minister in 1996 or Sonia cold-shouldering Mulayam’s emissary Amar Singh at a dinner thrown for the allies of the United Progressive Alliance in 2004.
But the young leadership is willing to move on as they have a bigger threat from the BJP. Winning UP for both of them is as crucial as for the BJP, which is eyeing a second term at the Centre.
While Akhilesh would get another term to complete his pending projects, the alliance victory would cement his control over the party. The Congress, on the other hand, will taste power after 27 years and many in the party believe that its revival is only through the power route.
Political analyst Manoj Dixit, however, feels that the event managers who put up Sunday’s show need to polish the campaign. “The response in Muslim-dominated areas was bound to be good. What about constituencies that are the BJP stronghold? There could be counter-polarisation.”
The challenge thus is to make the ‘people’s alliance’, as described by Akhilesh, a public movement with youth in the forefront. While Bihar’s Grand Alliance was the coming together of two major castes — Yadavs and Kurmis, UP’s alliance is all about young leadership.
The BJP has accepted the challenge as their major focus in the manifesto is on youth. They may now counter the youth appeal with their own young leadership.