Mulayam Singh Yadav is missing in action in his Lok Sabha constituency, forcing son Akhilesh to sweat it out and make up for his father’s absence. On Wednesday , Akhilesh was running late by more than an hour. But, people didn’t mind waiting for him even under a scorching sun.
His helicopter landed in the lush green fields at Bagehla – some 30 km from Azamgarh as the waiting crowd cheered. Some youths climbed up trees, and raised slogans at the very first sight of Akhilesh. He reciprocated as he shook hands and waved at supporters.
For many Yadav families in Azamgarh – Mualaym Singh Yadav’s parliamentary constituency – it was a bright ‘son rise’. Mulayam hasn’t been here for last many months and even skipped campaigning.
Mulayam has campaigned for only two candidates so far-- daughter-in-law Aparna who is contesting from Lucknow Cantt and brother Shivpal who is contesting from Jaswantnagar in Etawah.
But in Azamgarh, SP supporters are charmed by Akhilesh.
“He is the natural claimant of netaji’s (Mulayam) legacy,” says 70-year-old Krishna Yadav, who
stands out in a young crowd. “Which family does not have fights?”
The feud in the Samajwadi Party’s first family and how it played out in the public is of little significance to the Yadavs here. For them, Akhilesh remain a Bhaiya (big brother) whose index of governance is higher than even his father’s.
“Do you see that jeans wearing and smartphone carrying youths…They are my biggest advantage in this election,” Akhilesh told HT, pointing at the cheering crowd standing few metres away from his helicopter. He is a hurry to hop on to his helicopter before sunset.
“We will defeat Modi and BJP,” he said before taking off. It was his seventh rally in Mulayam’s constituency in a day. It is a leaf straight out of his father’s book. He was replicating his father, who would campaign in Yadav pocket boroughs at the fag end of campaign and consolidate the community votes with his presence. Akhilesh is doing the same.
Akhilesh draws his confidence from the support he is getting from the Yadavs and, and as his strategists claim, even Muslims. Every SP government has empowered Yadavs – socially, economically and politically – and the community is not shifting allegiance. For Yadavs, SP is the choice and Akhilesh their leader.
“It is existential battle for Muslims. They know only SP can stop BJP,” a strategist from Akhilesh’s team said.
Azamgarh is a case in point. It is a Yadav bastion with strong Muslim population. Mulayam won this seat in 2014 despite a “Modi-wave”. The SP had also swept this district in 2012, winning nine out of 10 assembly seats. The party also held ground in districts such as Ballia, Ghazipur, Jaunpur and others; getting such massive leads at the start of 2012 election that its victory march halted only after winning the state.
But repeating the last assembly elections’ performance in 2017 is an uphill task. The BJP is rising and BSP has stitched up alliance with Muslim outfits to get a foothold. BSP chief Mayawati has tied up with Ansari brothers, extracted support from Ulema Council and some other religious leaders.
Akhilesh may have decisively won his fight within the Samajwadi Party, but the electoral battle is far from over.