Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav launched his much-awaited road show on Thursday, vowing to win next year’s assembly elections amid a show of unity in Uttar Pradesh’s ruling family and a sea of ecstatic young supporters.
But even before the chief minister’s high-tech Mercedes Benz ‘Vikas Rath’ had travelled a kilometere, Samajwadi Party state president Shivpal Yadav struck a discordant note at a hurriedly called press conference, saying the yatra was not the official launch of the party’s campaign for next year’s assembly elections.
Akhilesh and Shivpal have been locked in a bitter power struggle over the past few months that prompted tit-for-tat sackings of supporters on either side from both the party and the government.
Thousands of party supporters thronged the route of the yatra, flagged off by party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow with Akhilesh and Shivpal on either side. The launch went off smoothly despite supporters of Akhilesh and Shivpal coming to blows.
More trouble was to follow soon when the ‘rath’ broke down barely a kilometre into the yatra. Akhilesh stepped out of the bus and continued the rest of the journey in an SUV.
A glum-faced Shivpal did wish his nephew’s yatra a success in a brief speech during the flagging-off but Akhilesh did not mention his uncle even once.
But later at the press conference, Shivpal said the party’s poll bugle will be blown at its silver jubilee event on Saturday, belying popular perception that the yatra will mark the launch of the party’s campaign.
“The yatra is being taken out under the leadership of Akhilesh. It will give a message to the entire UP and popularise work by our government,” Shivpal said at the flag-off as the large number of the chief minister’s supporters chanted, “Akhilesh, Akhilesh”.
In his address, the chief minister sent out a message to the senior leadership, seen siding with Shivpal in the power struggle.
“Youth was always with the party and will stay with it. If the party needs experience, it also needs energy,” Akhilesh said.
“As this rath will move, it will unite our party workers as well as netas.”
Mulayam, who had earlier publicly rebuked Akhilesh over the face-off with Shivpal, took a dig at the young supporters.
Clearly unhappy with slogans of “Yeh jawani hai kurban, Akhilesh bhaiya tere naam (the youth is ready to sacrifice all for brother Akhilesh), Mulayam said those who are talking about sacrifice will run helter-skelter if they face police lathi-charge.
“They don’t know what struggle is. Apart from sloganeering, they should try to study and learn the party’s and its leaders’ philosophies,” he said.
The chief minister was accompanied by his wife, Dimple Yadav, and their children until the Mercedes bus that took hours to negotiate the crowds at the La Martinere grounds broke down.
Akhilesh had swept to power in 2012 and is hoping to lead the party again to victory in elections scheduled early next year.
For more on the Yadav family feud, click here.