POLITICS

Will Akhilesh 2:0 Manage To Revive Samajwadi Party's Fortunes In Uttar Pradesh

Akhilesh steps out of family shadow to be his own man

18/10/2017 5:28 PM IST | Updated 18/10/2017 5:29 PM IST

A recent YouTube video has re-launched Akhilesh Yadav as a superhero, ready to vanquish his adversaries. The list of adversaries, of course, include various BJP leaders, starting with Yogi Adityanath and Amit Shah and ending with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. The video is basically a montage of famous dialogues and scenes from various Bollywood blockbusters, with faces of politicians superimposed on that of the actors.

The approximately three-minute long video is called 'Action Raja 2', the '2' probably signifying the re-incarnation of Yadav junior in the political topography of India. It may look like it's fan fiction of some sort and a spoof on the current political scenario, but Samajwadi Party insiders insists it isn't.

A send-up or for real?

The maker of the video, Faizaan Siddiqui, is an SP worker and so there's no question of spoofing the boss, insisted Anand Bhadauria, a close Akhilesh aide. Bhadauria had also put up another video on his Facebook page which depicted Yadav as 'Don' from the film starring Shah Rukh Khan. This video was created in February this year.

The spot has elements of burlesque and its creator — Lucknow-based Siddiqui — has made parodies of Mayawati, Yogi Adityanath. But Bhadauria insists that Siddiqui "worships" Akhilesh and his debut video on him was called "Ek tha Akhilesh (there was an Akhilesh): An emotional song".

Akhilesh Yadav 2:0, in real life, is remarkable for one change. At 44, he's come out of his family's shadow that bedevilled his first tenure as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. Superman or not, he has positioned himself as a mainstay of a "secular" coalition which the Opposition is prospectively looking at to combat the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Pawan Kumar / Reuters
Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party (SP) President, waves to his supporters as he arrives for an election campaign rally in Jaunpur, India March 6, 2017.

Akhilesh 2:0

Akhilesh's self-confidence after his party, the Samajwadi Party, was routed in the UP elections, stems from his second coming as the SP president earlier this month. It does not as much arise from the ground situation because the SP has not recovered the aggression that characterizes it whenever it's in the Opposition. No street fights with the Yogi government, no police "lathis" bearing down on the activists, no arrests. But these are early days of the new regime and there's time for all of that, say Akhilesh's aides.

Akhilesh's big achievement is he has attained the top post without challenges from his father and mentor, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and his paternal uncle, Shivpal Singh Yadav who nursed his own ambitions and once placed himself as Akhilesh's contender. Mulayam and Shivpal stayed out of the SP's national convention held in Agra on October 5 to formalise Akhilesh's re-anointment. He claimed he had their "blessings".

What is a fact is that Akhilesh met his father one-on-one several times before the Agra meet, confirming a perception that Mulayam had endorsed his son's second elevation at every step.

What is a fact is that Akhilesh met his father one-on-one several times before the Agra meet, confirming a perception that Mulayam had endorsed his son's second elevation at every step. Mulayam reportedly prevailed on Shivpal not to come in his son's way. Shivpal, a legislator, has been painted into a corner. He has no option other than serving his nephew. He cannot resign and join another party like the BJP until the next Lok Sabha or assembly election in case a ticket bait is dangled before him. He will lose the only locus he has. Shivpal's potential to manipulate the divisions in Mulayam's clan and play on the purported aspirations of Akhilesh's step-brother Prateek and his wife Aparna is over after Aparna lost the 2017 election and is warming up to the BJP.

Akhilesh used his unchallenged supremacy to his advantage. He dropped Mulayam and Shivpal from the SP's reconstituted national executive, rewarded his uncle and loyalist Ramgopal Yadav with the post of the principal general secretary and nominated Ramgopal's son Akshay Yadav as a special invitee. In contrast, Dharmendra Yadav, also a cousin and a Lok Sabha MP like Akshay, does not figure in the list because in the recent family dispute, he sided with Mulayam and Shivpal.

Likewise, those outside the family who steadfastly backed Akhilesh were suitably placed in the executive committee, notably Rajya Sabha MPs Kiranmay Nanda, Naresh Agarwal, Surendra Nagar, Ram Prakash Verma and Vishambar Prasad Nishad. These MPs collectively boycotted a meeting Mulayam had called at the end of the last Parliament session and registered their "solidarity" with Akhilesh.

At 77 and in indifferent health, Mulayam ceded space to his son after playing the neutral umpire for a while.

What will Akhilesh make of the mandate?

Pawan Kumar / Reuters
Dimple Yadav, wife of Samajwadi Party (SP) president and chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav, addresses an election campaign rally in Agra, India February 8, 2017.

His politics seems fuzzy and defensive. In response to a journalist's question on a visit to Raipur, he declared his wife, Dimple Yadav, who is the MP from Kannauj, will not contest in 2019, apparently in response to the BJP's tirade against dynasties. "If there is dynastic politics, then I will decide that my wife won't fight elections next time. Now BJP should tell us about its dynastic politics," he was quoted saying.

Last week at the launch of former President Pranab Mukherjee's book, "The Coalition Years: 1996-2012", Akhilesh shared the dais with Mukherjee, the former Prime Minister Pranab Mukherjee, CPM and CPI leaders Sitaram Yechury and S Sudhakar Reddy, BSP MP Satish Mishra and DMK MP Kanimozhi. He signalled that in the Opposition spectrum, he was no less a player than his seniors and peers.

Pawan Kumar / Reuters
Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party (SP) President, waves to his supporters as he arrives for an election campaign rally in Jaunpur, India March 6, 2017.

Akhilesh said, "Elections beckon. The book will have lessons for us. If some of you (the leaders on the stage) had the opportunity to discuss (coalition formation) with 'Netaji' (Mulayam), now it is my turn." Mukherjee and Manmohan later congratulated him.

However, serious tests await Akhilesh before he can hope to become a linchpin of Opposition politics. He has to recover lost ground in UP's urban local body polls as well as the crucial by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur that were occasioned by the resignations of the chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya. The Congress has announced it would go solo in the local polls. If the Opposition fights independently in the two by-polls, it's a scenario tailor-made for a BJP win.

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