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UP Election 2017: Riding the cycle, Akhilesh Yadav may emerge as fulcrum of a new political axis

Politics is perception. Secure in the knowledge that he had the numbers in the bruising battle against his father, Akhilesh Yadav mapped out the alliances, fixed the dates for a whirlwind tour of Uttar Pradesh, and dispatched his campaign managers far and wide to organise multiple rallies everyday. Camp 'Tipu' was ready, even if the Election Commission were to freeze the 'bicycle' symbol. Media reports indicated that if the EC had no-balled the cycle, Akhilesh was planning to speed away with a motorcycle!

But there was a problem. Despite strength in numbers — the Akhilesh faction flaunted the support of 205 out of 228 Samajwadi Party MLAs, 56 of 68 MLCs, 15 of 24 Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha MPs, 28 of 46 national executive members, and 4,716 party delegates out of a total of 5,731 — a new party and a new symbol would have meant a vertical split in the party, and the resultant four-way contest would've handed Mayawati the decisive advantage.

Akhilesh Yadav. Reuters file image

Akhilesh Yadav. Reuters file image

EC's decision on Monday to hand over the cycle symbol to Akhilesh, making his faction the 'real SP', is a hammer blow to father Mulayam Singh, who now must hand over to his son the empire he founded and nurtured. The ageing patriarch may yet spring a surprise, but he might find it difficult to bounce back from this defeat. The first of the seven-phase Uttar Pradesh elections is scheduled for 11 February, and filing of nominations for 73 seats in western UP starts on Tuesday. If he wishes to fight his own battle — a possibility that he has intriguingly kept hanging in the air — Mulayam and his battered camp must take recourse to obsolete platforms like Bharatiya Lok Dal, since he doesn't have enough time to float a new outfit.

This translates to an even bigger boost for brand Akhilesh, who has successfully appropriated the political capital of his father minus the baggage of incumbency and negative perception. With the old SP guard out of the way, the chief minister can now project his image as a legitimate counter to the Narendra Modi-led "development" narrative. In one swift swoop, Akhilesh has not only disowned the 'Bahubali' culture that dogged SP, but also the lawlessness and corruption that were rampant under his watch. He can now stake claim for a second term, this time with a freshness that would have otherwise been denied to him.

The events from last September, when a four-and-a-half-CM suddenly rose up in revolt after being sacked as the state party chief and launched a bitter battle against his uncle Shivpal and father, has culminated into him being anointed as the undisputed party chief, who has inherited the party's legacy by fight, not design. Miraculously, Akhilesh emerges from this bruising family dangal as a man with a clean image and a bright future, one who has shown the ability to vanquish the innumerable power brokers within his party and family, and one who can take along Netaji's legacy as Chhote Netaji.

This is a devastating political message, one that his foes and friends alike have noted. From Congress, which hopes to ride pillion on Akhilesh's cycle, to Trinamool Congress that's desperate to see Narendra Modi and BJP suffer a setback, a new political axis is emerging, with Akhilesh as its fulcrum.

It's not merely the 'Grand Alliance' if Akhilesh can go on and win a second term from here — he may even fill the space that lies vacant among Opposition ranks, who have struggled to pose an effective challenge to Narendra Modi despite cameo performances from an Arvind Kejriwal or a Mamata Banerjee.

It isn't a surprise to note how opposition leaders lined up to congratulate Akhilesh. Sheila Dikshit appeared more interested in ensuring Akhilesh's win than her own aspirations for the chief minister's chair, even though she remains Congress' candidate. Lalu Prasad Yadav was even more interested than SP cadres, appealing fervently to Mulayam to patch up. He was joined by Nitish Kumar who threw his weight behind Akhilesh, so did the NCP. From West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who earlier lent her support to Akhilesh during his battle for the symbol, also tweeted a congratulatory message.

The stage is now set, not only for a SP-Congress-RLD Grand Alliance and a three-way contest in UP, but the portend of Akhilesh's 'symbolic' victory will also promise to have far reaching consequences.


Updated Date: Jan 17, 2017 12:57 PM

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