UP elections: Akhilesh back in the race with bicycle but potholes remain | opinion | Hindustan Times
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UP elections: Akhilesh back in the race with bicycle but potholes remain

The Election Commission’s decision to give the bicycle symbol to the Akhilesh Yadav faction could help the Uttar Pradesh chief minister overcome anti-incumbancy

opinion Updated: Jan 17, 2017 10:10 IST
Prashant Jha
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav rides a bicyle, the SP’s poll symbol. The Election Commission ruled in favour of the CM in the family fued within the Samajwadi Party.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav rides a bicyle, the SP’s poll symbol. The Election Commission ruled in favour of the CM in the family fued within the Samajwadi Party. (HT File Photo)

With the Election Commission recognising the Akhilesh Yadav faction as the official Samajwadi Party, and allowing it to retain the bicycle symbol, the UP election is truly open. It also throws up the possibility that, for a first time in over two decades, a party may defy anti-incumbency and return to power.

In recent travels across East and West UP, three things clearly emerged.

One, the CM is enormously popular. No one speaks a word against Akhilesh Yadav. People may or may not vote for him -- but the CM is seen as an “aacha aadmi”, good man who has worked. “Kaam to kiya hai.”

A Lucknow Bania businessman, whose family has been in BJP for three generations, told this writer, “We now have a credible option in Akhilesh. He is good for industry. The government is responsive to our concerns. He is clean. What else do we want?”

Read more| Akhilesh Yadav triumphs in SP symbol war: Why EC didn’t give the cycle to Mulayam

A Muslim student in Aligarh said, “He gave us laptops last time. Now, I have filled up a smartphone form; if he wins, I will get a phone.”

A Brahman hotel waiter in Banaras was a BJP supporter, but added, “Modiji is fine in Delhi, we want Akhilesh bhaiya in Lucknow. Look at the expressway he made.”

A Yadav in Jaunpur claimed his son was injured in the village. “I got to know six hours later. But he had already reached the hospital because of the CM’s ambulance sewa.”

These are fragments and voices -- and none of this construes a general conclusion of a state as complex and large as UP. But they indicate that anti-incumbency against Akhilesh is low; that there is public sentiment in his favour; that he has followers across castes and religions; and that he has been able to carve out an image of SP as a young, modernist outfit -- away from its goonda taint.

Read More| UP election 2017: Why getting the SP ‘cycle’ is Akhilesh Yadav’s biggest victory

Mark it. Not all of this may be rooted in facts. There are many who have sided with Akhilesh whose activities are not as clean as they seen; he may be practicing the same patronage politics in a more sophisticated manner as administrative appointments show.

But as a BJP worker in Varanasi said, “Akhilesh ne Modiji ko bhi marketing main peeche chod diya (Akhilesh has surpassed even Modi in marketing).

This however, does not mean that the election is done. UP remains a completely open, triangular contest. Mulayam Singh’s candidates may still tear away a section of SP’s votes. BJP has Modi, a carefully constructed caste coalition of upper castes and non-Yadav backwards, and a ‘pro-poor’ image going for it. They have been the only party campaigning on the ground for months; their outreach has been deep; they are breaking into new constituencies.

BSP has Mayawati, a core Dalit vote spread across the state, and possibly, arithmetic going for it. In West UP, particularly, this will play out in seats where she has given tickets to Muslims. A former pradhan of the Bassi Kallan village of Muzaffarnagar, said, “If father and son are together, I will vote SP. Otherwise Behenji.”

Read More| Gift me UP, Mayawati tells cadre on her 61st birthday

A senior cleric in Deoband said that in the town, there is a substantial Dalit vote -- and so Muslims would vote BSP to defeat BJP.

In Rampur, in the Swar constituency, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan, known as Navaid Bhai, is banking on a similar coalition of his own Muslim vote with the BSP-Dalit vote.

This means that while SP has the most popular CM face, if factors like local candidate and arithmetic become predominant, the game could turn either side.

And finally, it is important to note that SP still has not released its list of candidates; that alliance has not been formed yet with the Congress; that having been in power has resulted in local contradictions and rivalries which Akhilesh has not been able to confront yet. Most importantly, the CM has not stepped out of Lucknow to campaign.

All of this may happen within the next 48 hours -- and it is only then that we will be able to judge if riding on the cycle, or hopping on his chopper, Akhilesh would be able to sell his grand narrative in India’s biggest state.