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A trial by fire for Akhilesh Yadav in the upcoming UP polls

By moving away from his feuding family, Akhilesh Yadav pursued a development agenda and created a new vote bank for the Samajwadi Party. But 2017 may prove to be his sternest test yet.

columns Updated: Jan 15, 2017 23:31 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Akhilesh Yadav,Mulayam Singh Yadav,Uttar Pradesh
A municipal corporation worker removes a banner poster of Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. The manner in which the members of a high-profile family are fighting with each other gives rise to a question: Are their personal ambitions dearer to them than the electoral fortunes of their party?(Sanjay Kanojia/AFP)

A saying goes in the Hindi belt: Jab pita ke joote mein bete ke paanv samane lagein, toh use apne pair vapas kheench lainen chahiye (When a son begins to fill his father’s shoes, then the father should withdraw his feet.) Have the elders of the Samajwadi Party forgotten this?

The manner in which the members of a high-profile family are fighting with each other gives rise to a question: Are their personal ambitions dearer to them than the electoral fortunes of their party? If you remember, even at the time Akhilesh Yadav assumed power, Ramgopal and Shivpal were divided in rival political camps. Ramgopal isn’t Akhilesh’s real uncle, but by declaring on television that he would be happy if Akhilesh became chief minister, he had made his political affiliations clear.In response, his uncle Shivpal, the real brother of Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh, said that the MLAs will decide on who becomes the chief minister. Political pundits had predicted at that time that the extended Samajwadi clan would not stay united for a long time.

The real test was for Mulayam Singh.

He was the undisputed chief of the party. His writ ran as the party’s command. The next generation from his family had stepped into politics, but it was seen only as a by-product of his patronage. That’s why Akhilesh faced a lot of turbulence in the initial phase of his chief ministerial tenure. The government machinery had an army of people faithful to his father and uncle who had been appointed at the behest of their political masters. The young office-bearer’s greatest challenge: Those officers, reappointed to plum posts for another term, were not ready to listen to him. The council of ministers that Akhilesh was heading wasn’t any different. The MLAs with criminal antecedents were equally obdurate. Periodically they kept on posing law and order problems that tarnished the image of the government. Most people in the party organisation were Shivpal loyalists.

Everybody had their own selfish agenda.

Read:I am Samajwadi Party president, Akhilesh is Uttar Pradesh CM, says Mulayam

The litany of Akhilesh’s difficulties did not end here. The ‘loyalists’ often complained to Mulayam about him and he was routinely reprimanded in full public glare. At at time when Indian family values have evolved, Akhilesh merely smiled even after being publicly rebuked, conforming to the image of the ideal son as envisioned by the old-timers of the state. The emotional people of Uttar Pradesh applauded Akhilesh as the ideal son but this tag was proving to be harmful for his political career. Even his rivals mocked him as ‘half-chief minister.’

At the same time, voters’ expectations from Akhilesh were shooting through the roof. So, he moved away from family feuds and devoted himself to development projects. Today Uttar Pradesh is the only state in India where the Metro is present in three districts. His government completed the Agra-Lucknow Expressway in record time. He also understood that just building roads, the Metro and providing more than 20-hours power supply wasn’t enough. He gave away computers to youngsters, worked for women’s empowerment and distributed thalis to poor kids who were the recipients of mid-day meals. To counter allegations of lawlessness, he set up state-of-the-art control rooms, patrol vehicles and a computerised helpline for women.

In this manner, with great astuteness, Akhilesh went beyond the politics of religion and caste in his attempt to create a new vote-bank. As a result, today even when he speaks in rebellious tones, instead of perceiving him as the disobedient son, people are ready to stand with him. For the same reason, he finds most of his party ministers and MLAs in his camp.

Read: ‘If Mulayam can leave son, why can’t we leave him?’: Akhilesh rises amid SP feud

With all this going for him, will Akhilesh be able to withstand the trial by fire ahead?

He is facing the BJP led by Narendra Modi. Also, the team of Amit Shah and Om Mathur has created a new vote- bank of the extremely backward for the saffron party. Then there is the traditional foe Mayawati. She doesn’t speak much but keeps preparing for the elections round the clock. This time she is eyeing the SP’s Muslim vote-bank. Most surveys indicate that Akhilesh is the first choice of the SP voters but in case Mulayam campaigns against his own son, it may weaken the SP’s traditional Muslim-Yadav coalition. Then the split won’t just be of votes, but the party flag, office, property and the sentiments of supporters. As in cricket so in politics, the value of runs or votes lost is always greater than votes won.

Read: UP polls: Congress, Akhilesh-led SP alliance talks to revive after EC hearing

The support of the Congress and other regional parties can help Akhilesh regain lost ground and keep the Muslim voters united

The political grapevine is abuzz that Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi have reached an agreement and it will be revealed any moment. It is also being said that the Rashtriya Lok Dal will be part of this coalition. Some claim that Priyanka Gandhi and Dimple Yadav will campaign together. There are all kinds of speculation. What the truth is wasn’t clear to anyone except the politicians, at the time these lines were being written.

But one thing is certain. If the coalition is not formed immediately, then its influence will keep diminishing.

In politics, delayed decisions can prove to be really costly.

Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan

First Published: Jan 15, 2017 21:23 IST