Akhilesh Yadav wins the first of his major battles before the crucial Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and there's suddenly this funny feeling that he might go all the way.
The symbol fight was an in-house, intra-party matter but the public nature of it ensured that Akhilesh's image grows larger-than-life. He hogged the national spotlight and turned into a subject of immense interest, clearly not something he managed as chief minister. After all, the challenge he threw to his father, a political heavyweight, has few parallels in the political history of Independent India, let alone that of Uttar Pradesh. He was no more an obedient son operating in Mulayam's shadows; he had emerged as his own man in a space of weeks, a leader in his own right.
The symbol victory gives him the momentum. If he does not allow it to slacken, he could surprise political pundits who don't give him much of a chance in the upcoming election. The Election Commission's decision to gift him the 'cycle' ensures that his potential losses from going it alone without the symbol is minimised. There are a large number of voters who recognise parties by symbols. A chunk of these votes would have got wasted otherwise.
How does he sustain the momentum? In a series of steps. First, he should be graceful in victory and restore to Mulayam the family patriarch status he enjoyed in the party. This would not only pacify the angry elder and his associates but also convey a positive message about Akhilesh to a large audience in the state. Second, he should ensure that the social groupings which stood by the Samajwadi Party through thick and thin don't look for other options because Mulayam is no more in the lead.
As a leader who doesn't have to carry the baggage of his party's past, he has the opportunity to enlarge its traditional social base by inviting new groupings to its fold. For example, under Mulayam, the Samajwadi Party was primarily identified with the Yadavs. The non-Yadav OBCs, who form a significant constituency, had gradually drifted away from the party and into the embrace of the BJP. The voting trend in the General Election of 2014 had made this amply clear. He can arrest the trend with some fresh thinking. This should be his third immediate aim.
Fourth, Muslim voters who constitute about 19 percent of the state's electorate saw a saviour in Mulayam, by extension in the Samajwadi Party. Akhilesh has to win their confidence quickly to stop them from veering towards Mayawati's BSP. His nice man image is not enough to achieve that, he must establish himself as a firm leader too.
The fifth most important step for him is to find allies for the elections. He enjoys a good rapport with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and the latter is not averse to getting into an alliance with him. This ensures that the Muslim votes don't get divided between the two. Whoever wins around 29 percent of votes in a primarily three-cornered contest gets to rule the state, according to the trend in earlier elections. The Congress' eight percent of votes added to the Samajwadi Party's 25 percent makes the alliance a winning proposition. Besides, the latter has to rope in other smaller parties strategically.
However, beyond all this he needs to deliver a political message that is impressive and acceptable across the state. His focus so far has been development — and he has some achievement to his credit — but that may not be enough in a state where caste and communal considerations run deep. His message has to cut through all divisive equations and address to the aspirations of the youth in particular. The young are a powerful constituency and are not necessarily swayed by appeals in the name of identities. Being a young leader, Akhilesh should not find communicating with this group as difficult as the generation of his father.
He has several advantages, particularly after winning the party's symbol and the party itself. How he charts his future would be keenly watched now.
Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 22:01:10 IST