Son-rise in UP: Mulayam lets Akhilesh ride the bandwagon
Thanks to ill-health, Mulayam Singh has given son Akhilesh a free hand to reshape the Samajwadi party - and it is making waves.
By Alka Pande
In 1990, Commander Arjun Singh Bhadauria, a mentor of Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, made a prophetic statement. A socialist, Bhadauria said Mulayam was more a family man than a socialist. He predicted that Mulayam would dump his cousin Ram Gopal once brother Shivpal was ready for a plunge into politics and Shivpal himself too would be sidelined when son Akhilesh entered the picture.
Bhadauria is no more but his statement lives on. Today, there are no film stars in the SP campaigning for it, but thirty-something Akhilesh Yadav is touring the state, riding his Kranti Rath (Chariot of Revolution) alone. Mulayam is guiding his son from behind the scenes, while Ram Gopal and Shivpal remain bit players.
“Mulayam is trying to percolate this message down to the party that Akhilesh is the new Samajwadi Party leader and the party is contesting the assembly elections under his young leadership,” says Surendra Rajput, a local political analyst.
For the past four months, Akhilesh has been a blur of activity. Since 12 September, he has travelled 5,000 km in the state, including 200 km through a cycle yatra, covering 225 constituencies. His visits make less media noise than those by Rahul Gandhi, but he is drawing more crowds.
But apart from carrying the lion’s share of campaigning, Akhilesh’s primacy has been emphasised on at least three specific occasions in the last one month.
First, Shivpal had announced that Hasanuddin Siddiqui – brother of Naseemuddin Siddiqui, a prominent face in the BSP – would be joining the SP. Shivpal was shown his place a day later when Akhilesh denied any such move. On the second occasion, it was Mohan Singh who voiced the possibility of controversial MLA, DP Yadav (known as the unrivalled don of western Uttar Pradesh) joining the SP.
The announcement was rubbished by Akhilesh, who said: “We have made these mistakes in the past of taking in tainted politicians. This time no person with a criminal antecedent will be taken into the party.”
The latest is a statement made by Shivpal two days back. Shivpal said that Akhilesh could be the Chief Minister if the SP formed a majority government on his own. The very next day, Akhilesh ruled out the possibility and emphasised that only Mulayam would be Chief Minister, irrespective of numbers.
Why is Mulayam Singh playing second-fiddle to his son? Party insiders say the basic reason for pushing Akhilesh to the foreground is Mulayam’s ill health. “He wants to hand over the empire to his son before it is too late,” clarifies a party worker close to Mulayam’s family.
Since the responsibility has come to Akhilesh without ifs and buts, the scion is giving the party a complete makeover.
The party was infamous for its goonda (goon) element. Akhilesh has made bold statements about keeping criminals at bay. This, of course, is not entirely true, for the list of candidates finalised by him includes people like Kaptan Singh Rajput – who was accused of murder. This fact does not deter the young turk of SP, who thinks the time is ripe for emerging as an alternative to the BSP.
SP was also known as a party of old people. Akhilesh is concentrating on youth and using all tactics to attract this constituency. Currently, SP has about half a dozen profiles and community pages on social networking site Facebook. It also has accounts on microblogging site Twitter. These pages and the sites are being constantly peppered with latest news and photographs.
Akhilesh is also conscious that he has to undo some of Mulayam’s mistakes. During the Parliamentary elections in 2009, his father had spoken strongly against English and computers – for which he is still criticised.
Trying to nullify the damage, Akhilesh today explains that Mulayam Singh was misunderstood. “SP was never against English and computers. What we were asking for was computes in Hindi so that even those who have not been to convent schools can use it.”
Akhilesh has recognised and promoted young fighters by giving prominent places to Anand Singh Bhadauria in the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha. Bhadauria was kicked by policemen during a demonstration by the party on the issue of Student Union elections.
The approach is subtle and so are party advertisements, which talk very simply of health (parks), education (universities) and sports (stadiums) to attract the youth. The punchline is ‘Umeed ki Cycle’ (cycle of hope) – a play on the party’s election sumbol.