Akhilesh Yadav outsmarts Mamata Banerjee, stays away from Lucknow demonetisation rally

Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh have a great political allure. Leaders from afar are attracted to this vast state to come here and try their luck. After all, it is said that the path to Delhi goes via Lucknow, and a good show in Lucknow make people in Delhi take notice.

So, it was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who staged a protest rally in Lucknow on 29 November after a shrill campaign against demonetisation initiated by her in Delhi that attracted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in an expression of bonhomie went to the airport to receive her, turning it into a great photo opportunity. It was unofficially given out to the media that Akhilesh had given full support to Mamata’s protest show in Lucknow and he might possibly share the stage with her the next day. Incidentally, Mamta did not meet the Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav.

 Akhilesh Yadav outsmarts Mamata Banerjee, stays away from Lucknow demonetisation rally

A file image of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

But the next day was a different story. The venue chosen for Mamta’s protest meeting was a busy road intersection, one that is identified with the office of the Women Helpline (1090) started by the Akhilesh government. The area is splashed with hoardings of Akhilesh Yadav smiling down amidst a description of his government’s achievements. And there is a huge LED screen that displays videos of his government's schemes and their success. The venue is a little more than a kilometre from the Chief Minister’s official residence as well, and the road intersection is very busy throughout the day as it connects the trans-Gomti part of Lucknow through two bridges.

Any disruption on this roundabout causes huge traffic snarls within minutes and it so happened that day also, creating an impression that the huge crowd was there to listen to the fiery Didi.

Her party's hoardings lined the roads leading to the venue, on which there was a single line: Notebandi wapas lo (Withdraw demonetisation) with a picture of Mamata with her stern face and an outstretched hand and a raised finger which resembled the famed posture in BR Ambedkar statues.

The meeting was scheduled to start at 10.30 am with Mamata expected to be at the venue around 1 pm and the crowd — some that had come on purpose and some that had to perforce stop there because of the traffic jam — waited patiently for her. In fact, the venue very soon looked more like a Samajwadi Party gathering with SP banners, slogans and SP flag-waving supporters swarming the place. Akhilesh supporters were shouting slogans for him and it was announced that he would be coming there soon.

But Mamata was delayed by nearly an hour and Akhilesh decided to stay away. In his place, one of his ministers Arvind Singh Gope and the party’s senior leader Kiranmoy Nanda graced the stage. Mamata spoke in her typical style, asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw demonetisation, but as news of Akhilesh not arriving on the spot spread, SP supporters started moving away in large numbers. Besides accusing Modi of hurting the poor with this move, she said she would continue to oppose the prime minister, and dared him to arrest her.

If Mamata was smart enough to choose a busy road crossing for her meeting so that the traffic disruption could give the impression of a crowd, Akhilesh Yadav proved to be smarter. He not only stayed away from what was essentially a Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee show but also avoided sharing the stage with her, as it would possibly have given a signal that he had accepted her leadership in this anti-BJP movement on the issue of demonetisation. But Akhilesh succeeded in giving a signal that despite reports of him being amenable on the issue he was against demonetisation in principle even though he has so far never called for a rollback as Mamata has been demanding from day one. He has also managed to isolate Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati on this issue as no senior opposition leader has sided with Mayawati on her anti-demonetisation stance till now.

Mamata is the second non-BJP and non-Congress chief minister to have marked her political presence in Uttar Pradesh in the last few months. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was the first to stage a series of meetings in the state some months ago on total prohibition alcohol. But he has been with Modi on the issue of demonetisation. Mamata, on the other hand, has been on the forefront this time in the anti-demonetisation campaign, demanding nothing less than a rollback. And, she has left Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati far behind in acquiring national opposition leadership on this issue. So, a splash in Lucknow was quite in order.

Incidentally, no leader of the Samajwadi Party owing allegiance to Mulayam Singh Yadav or Shivpal Yadav was present at the Mamata show. Mulayam is not known to be particularly eager on any alliance with Mamata given the past acrimony between the two since the issue of the previous Presidential election in 2012. It would thus appear that Akhilesh’s token support to Mamata and her rally may not be the Samajwadi Party’s stand as far as future alliances are concerned. But Akhilesh could well use Mamta’s support in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election 2017 campaign that could begin in the coming weeks even if Trinamool Congress is not going to be in the fray for the game of numbers. Akhilesh would remain the party’s undisputed face for UP, but he could well be won over to support Mamata over Nitish in 2019.

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Updated Date: Nov 30, 2016 13:01:43 IST