Seeking to send a message of unity in the ruling Samajwadi Party which has been battling a bitter power struggle, Mulayam Singh Yadav on Thursday flagged off Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's rath yatra in the presence of state SP chief Shivpal Yadav.
Ending days of suspense on whether he will be present or not, the SP patriarch arrived at La Martinere grounds — the flag off venue — soon after Akhilesh reached there. Shivpal also joined them moments later.
Mulayam took a seat on the stage and was flanked by Shivpal on one side and Akhilesh on the other to send a message that the party was united ahead of the upcoming UP Assembly elections, barely a few months away. "Akhilesh ko hum shubhkamna detey hain (I wish him well)," Shivpal said, adding that "vikas sey vijay ki aur yatra (from development to victory)" will send a message of unity across the state and halt BJP in its tracks.
"Our target is to prevent BJP from coming to power in the state in the crucial 2017 elections," he said. The enthusiasm among the youth leaders was palpable right since early morning with hordes of young party workers donning red caps and making a beeline to the venue, the very place where Akhilesh took oath as chief minister in 2012.
Akhilesh's wife Dimple Yadav joined him and said that it will be a historic beginning.
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) November 3, 2016
As some youngsters jostled to reach the venue, Shivpal advised them to calm down. "Josh mein hosh na kho dein (don't lose your cool in enthusiasm)," he said. Ahead of the flag off event, Ramgopal Yadav's son and MP Akshay Yadav said, "People will vote for Akhilesh. We will contest in his name and win."
The presence of Mulayam, Shivpal and Akhilesh on one platform came days after bitter acrimony in the Yadav clan saw no-holds-barred tit-for-tat sackings and expulsions of followers of warring camps.
Akhilesh Yadav also said on Thursday that as the yatra will continue, all differences within the party will eventually fade away. "I am not angry with anyone and I think no one is angry with me too," Akhilesh said when asked about his strained relations with Shivpal.
However, he refused to comment on speculations of a possible alliance with other parties for the polls. "National president will decide what is to be done. He will take decision after giving due thoughts. I am not aware if coalition has started or not. I also don't know what is being discussed. If a coalition is formed, political parties have to decide themselves who will lose or gain," he told reporters after starting his rally.
Assembly Speaker Mata Prasad Pandey, SP Vice-President Kironmoy Nanda, Naresh Agarwal, MP Dharmendra Yadav and ministers Rajendra Chowdhury, Manoj Kumar Pandey, Narendra Verma, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, Balram Yadav, Parasnath Yadav, Vinod Kumar alias Pandit Singh, Rammurti Verma, Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya and Arvind Singh Gope besides a number of sacked youth leaders were present.
Before embarking on the highly-publicised rath yatra to highlight the development work undertaken by him during the last four years, the 43-year-old chief minister said the "tradition" of yatras was started in the state by 'netaji' and he was taking it out for the third time.
"I want to thank the youth for this historic event. Netaji had taken out the yatra for the first time and now I am taking it out for the third time. From this yatra, we appeal to people to vote in favour of our party," he said.
Mentioning the delay in the yatra by about a month, Akhilesh said, "We had to take out the yatra on 3 October, but due to certain circumstances, we could not do it. Now, we will try to reach maximum people through the yatra."
"Elections are round the corner and there will be comparison of works done by government. SP government has continuously focused on development without discrimination on basis of caste. This election is decisive in changing politics of the country and SP will form government again in 2017. In future (after 2017) also, only SP and its socialist ideology can bring a change in the country," the CM said.
Highlighting his government's works, Akhilesh said his government tried to strike a "balance" in development. "While we constructed metro, we also thought of cycle. We made expressway but also connected district headquarters by roads...Our schemes of Samajwadi pension, laptop distribution and Lohia Awas Yojana have benefited people," he said.
On recent controversy within the party and family, Akhilesh said, "Due to some conspiracies we were bit rattled up, but in the days to come we will be able to form government again."
Flagging off the bright red Mercedes Benz 'rath', Mulayam advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit families of martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the country. "As the defence minister, I used to visit families of martyr soldiers. I want our PM to visit their families. I salute their families and want to say that they might be having grief but they should be proud that their son died while securing our borders," he said.
On the situation on borders, Mulayam said, "We don't want any Indo-Pak war or soldiers sacrificing lives on border, there should be a via media solution." "Ram Manohar Lohia had given a message of humanity at international level and SP believes in it," he said.
Mentioning difference of opinion over naming the yatra, Mulayam said, "I had suggested Akhilesh to put 'Vijay' (victory) first and 'Vikas' after it. But he did not do that. Addressing slogan-shouting youths, Mulayam said, "Slogans like Bhaiya jeevan tere naam" (life is for you brother) will not work and you have to "struggle".
"The path of samajwad is difficult...I have faced lathis in agitations. This samajwadi movement is made after sacrifices. SP is party of sacrifice and struggle. I know when there is lathicharge, every one runs away and only 4-5 persons stay back," he said advising youths.
"I congratulate Akhilesh for the yatra and wish him all success," he said. Earlier, SP state president Shivpal, who arrived with brother Mulayam in the event, said he wanted to "congratulate" Akhilesh for the yatra "wishing it success". "The yatra is being taken out under the leadership of Akhilesh. It will give a message to the entire UP and popularise works being done by our government and ideologies of SP," he said.
The "target" of the party is to form government again in 2017, Shivpal said, adding, "We want to ensure that BJP should not form government and SP gets absolute majority once again." "I want to appeal and request all of you to join silver jubilee celebrations of the party on 5 November," Shivpal said, asking youths to participate with full enthusiasm.
Sending a strong message to the BJP, he also said that all secular people will come together to remove BJP from the country.
Sab secular log ikhatte hokar desh se BJP ko hatayenge: Shivpal Yadav pic.twitter.com/qf5u9OuDxk
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) November 3, 2016
The red Mercedes bus developed a snag and broke down after covering barely a kilometre. Akhilesh had to shift to his official SUV to continue the yatra.
CM waited anxiously for the repair work to be over, but as it took time, he decided to go ahead in his official SUVhttps://t.co/wvpLbz1kiN
— News18 (@CNNnews18) November 3, 2016
Although everyone reiterated that everything was fine within the Yadav clan and the party stood united, the absence of Shivpal Yadav in major posters and the Mercedes bus narrated a different story. The bus featured images of Mulayam Singh, Akhilesh himself and some of Samajwadi Party's flagship schemes, the face of Shivpal Yadav was nowhere to be seen.
With inputs from PTI