Yadav vs Yadav: Akhilesh’s assertion is right, but it comes at a wrong time
I first met Akhilesh Yadav in the winter of 2010-11 at a Hindustan Times symposium in Lucknow. There was another young politician, Jayant Chaudhury -- the 32-year-old grandson of the late prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh -- who outshone most speakers with his bilingual oratory.
But there was something that set Akhilesh apart. He exuded enormous confidence as a politician who could navigate the complex social matrix of the country’s most populous state; a leader proficient in speaking the language of both the haves and the have-nots; a reformist who could be a bridge between traditional social values and modern economic aspirations. My first impression wasn’t out of place. A year later, the Samajwadi Party won a landslide victory with 224 seats in the 403-member assembly and a young leader -- Akhilesh was then 38 years old -- took over the reins of a huge and unwieldy state.
Image grabs of newspaper headlines after Akhilesh’s poll victory in 2012
Uttar Pradesh was at a crossroads. It could forge ahead on the path to economic prosperity and social harmony or it could stay on the ruinous one of political conservatism that impedes the progress of its people. Looking back now, it is evident the SP and the state chose the latter.
From being the biggest hope of change, Akhilesh has come to be known as the weakest chief minister UP has ever had. Within weeks of taking charge as the youngest CM of the state, he was hemmed in by party seniors and elders in the family. Uncle Shivpal Yadav and father Mulayam’s close aide Azam Khan managed a lion’s share in the state cabinet for themselves and their cronies, which they would leverage later to revive their clout and the sectarian politics they stood for.
Akhilesh could do little to stop that as he carried the burden of repeating the electoral success of 2012 in the parliamentary elections of 2014. Corruption and nepotism returned to make headlines, so did social strife and communal polarisation, which was exacerbated by hardline Hindu affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party. As a recent investigation by Hindustan Times revealed, communal incidents witnessed a sharp spike across the state, with the number of instances reported to the police rising from 394 in 2011 to 2,872 in 2014 and 3,707 in 2015. The ruling SP turned a blind eye to these, as many of its leaders hoped the polarisation would help their party too. They were proved wrong as a resurgent BJP under its new leader Narendra Modi walked away with a record 71 of the 80 seats in the state in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.
The loss underscored how quickly the SP had been discredited among the voters, whose expectations of good governance and development from Akhilesh Yadav remained unrealised. Yet, there was an opportunity for the young Yadav leader to assert himself with the brand of politics he fashions. He took a bit too long, however, and chose a time that could have waited until the assembly elections early next year.
The family feud that has dominated news over the past several weeks has come at a time when Akhilesh appeared just about getting his act together. Reports from the ground at the time pointed to a contest that was equally balanced between the ruling SP, a resurgent BSP and a formidable BJP. But in no time, the tables have turned. The support base of the SP now stands scattered and confused. The BJP has moved quickly and smartly, winning every move in containing and curtailing its rivals.
Most political observers believe it is breakout time for Akhilesh. That he has the broadest support within the party and will eventually have the party patriarch on his side. That the ongoing crisis will see him emerge stronger and help Samajwadi Party get in sync with modern-day politics.
In the immediate context, though, the damage has been done. For now, it is advantage BJP.
The author is the chief content officer at Hindustan Times. He tweets as @rajeshmahapatra