Memo to Akhilesh Yadav: govern like Dravid batted
As Akhilesh Yadav take guards for a new inning as Chief Minister, he can draw inspiration from a self-effacing but top-performing man who retired yesterday.
Barely hours from now, it now appears near-certain, Akhilesh Yadav will be elected leader of the Samajwadi Party’s legislature party, formalising his ascension as the State’s youngest Chief Minister.
The imminent ‘coronation’ of the “dehati dynast” (as Ramachandra Guha alludes to him) is not without its moments of Mahabharat-esque palace intrigues. Opposition to Akhilesh’s anointment has come from within the family and the party’s old guard. The political patriarch Mulayam Singh’s younger brother Shivpal Singh and party heavyweight Azam Khan gave voice to their inhibitions, but appear to have been persuaded by the offer of some blandishments to support Akhilesh’s elevation.
In many ways, for all its reaffirmation of Indian politics’ oldest malady – scionitis, or the perpetuation of dynastic rule – Akhilesh’s ascension has the potential to alter the idiom of governance and change the rules for how the family business of politics can be run. Already, in the way he managed his election campaign, with sobriety rather than high-on-media-hype flashiness, Akhilesh has trumped the other ‘Dilli durbar’ dynast – Rahul Gandhi – and established that bottom-up ‘pedal power’ politics finds greater resonance among the dirty, unwashed masses than the ‘parachute artist’ politics of leaders airdropped from on high.
In his countless media interactions since the spotlight has been trained on him, Akhilesh Yadav has thus far demonstrated an endearing self-effacing quality that one associates less with politicians and more with, say, a Rahul Dravid, who even in retirement on Friday, exemplified rare grace.
As Akhilesh takes guard for a new political inning, he can do worse than borrow from Dravid’s cool temperament, discipline, heads-down humility, and dedication to the larger cause of the team that secured for the “other Rahul” an enviable reputation as Indian cricket’s Mr Dependable. Dravid’s batsmanship was far from flamboyant, but his contributions in the team’s cause were greater than those of other, more flashy teammates who walk with a swagger.
Of course, the cricketing analogy runs only so far in politics: the playing field, for all the intense animosities that it witnesses, is a much more forgiving arena than politics can ever be. And Akhilesh is padding up at about the age that Dravid is retiring. But if he gets it right and taps into his ‘’inner Dravid’, Akhilesh has the capacity to change the idiom of politics in India’s largest State – and move it away from the ‘politics of identity’ that parties, including his own, have traditionally fed (and fed off). By decisively presenting a modernist face of his party, Akhilesh has already severed the umbilical cord that might have tethered him to the backward-looking, luddite image that his father reinforced.
In the days immediately following the election verdict, when celebratory Samajwadi Party workers have been running amok and reviving memories of the party’s ‘goonda raj’ history, Akhilesh has so far been less than inspirational. Beyond the proforma pronouncements warning partymen to abide by the rule of law or face punishment, Akhilesh hasn’t sought to establish his authority over his out-of-line partymen in the way he did during the campaign. Faced with a first-ball bouncer, he has made a hash of it.
But if he can get his eye in quickly, and settle down to offer good governance in a State that is crying out for it, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav can be guaranteed a long inning, a great career and much critical acclaim – almost as good as the one that ‘The Wall’ ended yesterday.
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