New SP under Akhilesh?
Yadav scion has the potential to fulfil his father’s dream, but he must shed negativity
Before the Uttar Pradesh election, few people had a bad word to say about Samjwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. The scion of a storied political family, Akhilesh Yadav was seen as modern and forward thinking. His electoral victory in his State in 2012 had many proclaiming him as a new political superstar. But the stunning victory of the Bharatiya Janata party at the hustings in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year was seen as a repudiation of caste, communal and identity politics that was pioneered by the likes of Akhilesh Yadav’s father, Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party. Although a more thorough study of the election shows that far from negating the old political ways, the BJP and its president had mastered it, using clever caste consolidation and the mantra of Hindu unity to win at the polls. One thing the BJP did not assiduously do, however, was to attack Akhilesh Yadav personally, unlike their strategy when it comes to Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the Congress. While the BJP attacked rampant corruption, caste favouritism, communalism and elitism inherent in the Samajwadi Party and brought to the fore by people like Akhilesh Yadav’s uncle Shivpal Yadav and Azam Khan. Their messaging was that the Samajwadi Party was corrupt, not Akhilesh Yadav.
Many commentators thought that Akhilesh Yadav remained a political novice, but he understood this messaging was damaging him. He realised that he needed to expand the reach of the Samajwadi Party if they were to stand a chance of winning the elections, and although the coalition agreement with the Congress turned out to be a disaster, due to several factors, including delays in the negotiations because the Congress vice president refused to give up his New Year’s holiday, it was a calculated move by Akhilesh Yadav. At the same time, his high-profile spat with his father and uncle, whether it was calculated or not, seemed to dissociate him with the Samajwadi Party’s old guard that represented corruption and lawlessness which marked his regime. He was also smart enough to realise that it is important to have the media on his side, and while Akhilesh Yadav cannot escape all of the blame, he did manage to deflect most of the blame for the corruption and lawlessness on other members of his party. His image as a moderniser was solidified, thanks to high-profile infrastructure projects such as the Agra-Lucknow Expressway and the Lucknow metro. However, the internecine war inside the Yadav family would have ramifications at the elections.
But now, despite the Samajwadi Party’s humbling loss, Akhilesh Yadav has been elected his party’s president for the next five years. His father, who constantly sniped at Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle Shivpal Yadav, who threatened to break away from the party have both been comprehensively silenced. Azam Khan has switched over to Akhilesh Yadav’s side and despite the baggage that Khan carries, he does ensure Muslim support in western Uttar Pradesh. Akhilesh Yadav now has the opportunity to rebuild the party in his image and make it his party. It is unlikely to pay dividends in the next general election, but as the saying goes, the road to power in Delhi lies through Lucknow, Akhilesh Yadav should rebuild the Samajwadi Party to battle hard in 2022 in the State. If he can do that, he will be a potential frontrunner in 2024 to lead the nation. Mulayam Yadav always wanted to be the Prime Minister, Akhilesh Yadav has the potential to fulfil that.
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