“Maybe the women liked Akhilesh’s face better than Rahul’s,” said Shahid Siddique, the Samajwadi Party leader on a lighter note on a TV channel outlining one of the reasons for the massive support the socialist party got in Uttar Pradesh elections. Yes, women did come out to vote in huge numbers and ironically voted against a woman chief minister. But on a serious note, the results show that Rahul and the Congress were hardly a challenge for the SP. Akhilesh’s fight was always with the BSP and Dalit-ki-beti Mayawati. And the man of the moment was more than successful in decimating the BSP and take advantage of the anti-incumbency factor.
Though Akhilesh has been around for more than 11 years in politics now, this is the first time that he has held centrestage. As he was the face of the campaign of his party in these elections, naturally he is getting all the accolades for the stunning performance by the Samajwadi Party. It was almost amusing to see the media, especially the national media, clamour for the junior Yadav to get his sound bytes. The media had followed the Gandhi family in a flock and almost ignored the rest during the campaign.
Akhilesh more than obliged every member of the fourth estate. He patiently gave interviews to all channels and journalists, answering all questions with a refreshing candidness and did not squirm when difficult ones were directed at him. Like the question on the incident which happened on result day March 06, when Samajwadi Party workers were reported to have indulged in vandalism and clashed with journalists.
It is said that Akhilesh embarked on the journey to prepare for the battle of UP nearly one and a half years before the elections. He extensively campaigned in Uttar Pradesh and came across as an accessible leader amongst the masses. Probably the loss suffered by his wife Dimpy Yadav in the Yadav stronghold of Firozabad in Lok Sabha elections to Congress’ Raj Babbar must have shaken him up. It is also said that Akhilesh knows the name of every district leader and every main worker in the state. He once said, “I recognized the local leaders and got strength from them.” Maybe he was groomed well by his father and the strongman of UP politics, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is said to have used grassroot politics to cement the party.
Akhilesh may like western music and is a fan of Manchester United soccer team, and he may have got a degree in Australia, but he seems very rooted and a man who is at ease in the dusty bylanes of UP. He prefers to talk in Hindi to the press even when the journos ask him questions in English. Probably all this is a deliberate attempt on his part to tell the masses that he is one of them or probably all this comes naturally to him. Whatever may be the truth, his image and earnestness did endear the masses. Make no mistake – the electorate like leaders who can lead and have a charisma but also a leader who is down to earth and humble. Any hint of elitism does not go down well with them.
In the run-up to the UP polls Akhilesh took some decisions which raised eyebrows and ruffled some senior members of the party. He struck down the decision of his uncle and Mulayam’s right hand man Shivpal Yadav to bring in a BSP leader’s brother in the party. He even denied tickets to quite a few of the candidates whom Shivpal wanted. He vehemently said no to the entry of the so-called don of UP, DP Yadav, in the party. The message was simple – the reins were in his hand and he wanted to change the image of the SP being a party of goons and film stars. Maybe Amar Singh’s exit from the party helped him in his mission.
He also went all out to charm the young voters. It is apparent from the youth which thronged to his rallies that he was successful in his attempt. Ironically, Mulayam had spoken against computers and the English language in 2009 inviting severe criticism but the Samajwadi Party has profiles and community pages on Facebook and also an account on Twitter.
Guess Akhilesh is being practical and realistic. The SP manifesto promised employment allowances and laptops if voted to power. Nonetheless he dismisses any criticism of the party moving away from its ideology and says as a matter-of-fact, “We have to find ways to relate technology with agriculture.”
Akhilesh also appears to be honest in admitting that the Samajwadi Party’s image of being a party of criminals and failing on the law and order front had dented the party’s image severely. He has repeated time and again that criminal elements will have no place in his scheme of things. Nonetheless, like other parties, the SP too gave tickets to tainted candidates in these polls.
Post Script: Akhilesh may have captured the imagination of the voter in 2012 and may have given them a hope of improving their day-to-day lives but to get votes and to meet the expectations of the masses is a different ball game. The law and order problem and the criminals running wild during SP’s last regime are something which cannot be easily forgotten. Mulayam and his men did not do anything to allay the fear of the people last time around and paid the price for it. As the adage goes - only time will tell whether Akhilesh Yadav will work for the people with the same genuineness that he reflects today and emerge as a formidable administrator or whether he will become arrogant and autocratic and meet the same fate that Mayawati did at the altar of the masses. After all the common man has a potent weapon in a democratic set up – his vote.