On a sunny Thursday morning, as Akhilesh Yadav rose with a hydraulic lift on board his high-tech red Mercedes bus for his much-publicised ‘Vikas Rath Yatra’, wild cheers erupted from the crowds gathered along the roads of the Uttar Pradesh capital.
For the 43-year-old chief minister, the ‘Samajwadi Vikas Rath Yatra’ is a test of his popularity as he launches his bid to retain power in the state where he has been chief minister since 2012.
He stumbled upon a glitch almost immediately. After travelling less than a kilometre, his bus developed a technical snag, forcing Akhilesh to switch to an SUV to resume his journey from Lohia Path -- named after SP ideologue Ram Manohar Lohia
From here onwards, the road show comprising over 1,000 cars -- mostly SUV’s -- had a smooth sailing. Huge crowds, mostly party workers, lined both sides of the road as it passed through.
Buoyed by the turnout, the chief minister struck a confident note.
“People were hatching conspiracies by making up a rift that had annoyed me. But we are coming back to power,” he said.
The crowds and the bus breakdown slowed down his convoy considerably and he was forced to skip several scheduled stops along the way. Wherever the cavalcade halted, party songs such as ‘Mann Se Hai Mulayam..’ and ‘Yeah Samajwadi Party Jhanda...’ blared through giant speakers mounted on make-shift stages.
“Akhilesh Bhaiya has fulfilled all the promises that he made before coming to power. He will come to power with a majority,” said Abhishek Yadav, a supporter.
But not everyone was impressed. Traffic in Lucknow came to a virtual standstill as Akhilesh’s convoy wound its way out of the city, enroute Unnao.
“They should have chosen some other route rather than moving within the city,” complained Vikas Sharma, a Lucknow resident. Others smirked at the high-end cars that made up the convoy and termed it as “Luxary Samajwad”.
But his supporters were ecstatic. Many felt the young chief minister had proven his crowd-pulling worth on the first day of his staggered road show ahead of next year’s elections.
“It (road show) is an indication that his roadmap for Uttar Pradesh is more acceptable to the people,” said Professor Sudhir Panwar, a political analyst.
As the sun set over the horizon, Akhilesh concluded his road show at Shuklaganj in Unnao. But as he returned to the capital, rumours resurfaced whether all was well within the Yadav family. One good day on the road was not enough to bury lingering doubts