Akhilesh Yadav is, by a long shot, the best face of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh--both among his party's supporters and the general electorate alike--reveals a snap poll conducted by CVoter in the third week of September.
A virtual implosion in the party hierarchy recently saw Akhilesh Yadav at loggerheads with his uncle Shivpal Yadav, who has replaced Akhilesh as the president of the party's state unit. Akhilesh has also come under fire publicly by his own father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the party's national president.
Asked to pick the more popular public face between Akhilesh and Shivpal, 77% of those surveyed chose Akhilesh, and only 7% chose Shivpal. The number was even higher amongst Samajwadi Party supporters, 88% of whom chose Akhilesh, and less than 5% chose Shivpal.
"In other words, regardless of what political analysts feel about the Akhilesh Vs Shivpal Yadav episode, Akhilesh Yadav has got the numbers. There is no competition between the two, not even remote one. The leadership legacy of Mulayam Singh Yadav among Yadavs, farmers and Muslims has successfully been transferred to Akhilesh," says Yashwant Deshmukh of CVoter.
Between father Mulayam and son Akhilesh, 67% chose Akhilesh as the chief ministerial face, while only 19% chose his father. Support for Akhilesh was once again higher amongst SP supporters, at 75%. High support for Akhilesh over Shivpal was true of respondents across caste, economic status, educational qualifications, professions and ages. Support for Akhilesh was slightly higher amongst women (72%) than men (66%).
"If Akhilesh is unhappy with Shivpal because of this (appointment of the latter as theSP state chief), he should remember that people have accepted him as CM because he is my son. He never had any individual standing in politics," Mulayam Singh Yadav recently told SP workers at the party headquarters in Lucknow.
But the snap poll clearly shows Akhilesh not only having developed his own standing, but leaving behind his father by a long distance. While "Netaji" Mulayam Singh Yadav has thrice occupied the CM's chair (1989-93, 1993-95, 2003-07), Akhilesh became the state's youngest CM in 2012.
A key factor in Akhilesh's popularity over others in the party is his effort to change the SP's image as "gunda"-friendly outfit. Over 62% voters felt this way in the survey, and 24% even felt he was successful in doing so. However, a high 38% felt Akhilesh has tried but failed in getting rid of the party's "gunda" image.
"Not only does he get support from the core SP voters (read Yadavs, Muslims and Farmers) but has also managed to increase the scope of SP vote bank by making inroads in urban, middle class, female and youth votes, which were never really the catchment areas of the party," says Deshmukh.
The worst victims of the gundaism associated with Samajwadi Party rule are Dalits, who are supporters of the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party. No wonder that of the BSP voters surveyed, 34% were skeptical about whether Akhilesh really meant to overcome the party's gunda image. Yet it is significant that 49% BSP voters felt Akhilesh has tried to do so, and 16% even felt he has succeeded.
A key debate in the party revolving around the gunda image was the inclusion of Mukhtar Ansari and DP Yadav, both politicians with serious criminal charges against them. Akhilesh Yadav vetoed the entry of both, much to the displeasure of uncle Shivpal. Of the voters surveyed, 60% felt Akhilesh was right in doing so, 20% said he was wring, and the rest 20% couldn't decide either way.
"In public perception, Akhilesh Yadav has become even bigger than his father, which may or may not be a case of jubilation in the Yadav clan at large. Akhilesh may or may not win the 2017 assembly election, but the future of Samajwadi Party has been settled for sure," says Deshmukh.
The snap poll surveyed 11,228 randomly selected representative respondents across all 403 constituencies. The margin of error is +\- 3% at the state level and +\- 5% at the regional level.