Akhilesh clean bowls Mulayam and runs away with the cycle
Call it a well-scripted drama or a choreographed act, there is no denying that Akhilesh Yadav has pulled off a bloodless coup in the modern day Lucknow Sultanate. Hijacking the ‘Cycle’, when everyone thought that the Election Commission was going to freeze the Samajwadi Party’s symbol, was an ace.
From his travels across the State over the last three months, this writer was firmly of the view that a large section of voters was tired of the old lawless politics of Uttar Pradesh. They saw in Akhilesh Yadav a new beacon of progressive leadership and were waiting for him to break free from the clutches of his uncle. His father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, was showing every sign of having lost his old touch and the onset of senility. He appeared to be a hostage to a coterie of jealous relatives and scheming power brokers.
Akhilesh out-smarted the old courtiers in style. But, where he played his cards most masterfully was not getting painted as a treacherous progeny, a la Aurangzeb. Instead he projected himself as the good son who was being plotted against by the evil stepmother.
Throughout the entire saga, Akhilesh was careful not to show any disrespect towards his father or even his uncle, Shivpal, for that matter. He always trained his gun at the invisible “outsider”. In what will be seen as a magnanimous gesture, soon after the EC’s verdict, posters and banners were put up by his supporters with Mulayam’s picture, saying: “This Cycle will always remain yours”. This has been done to ensure the Yadav vote bank is not alienated by any perceived injustice towards their revered “Netaji”.
What Akhilesh does risk losing, however, is the support of Mulayam’s Muslim supporters. They may not immediately trust him and be wary of his future affiliations. This is where Akhilesh’s alliance with the Congress makes sense. Though the grand old party is pretty much a spent force in Uttar Pradesh, it still owns pockets of minority constituencies. Besides, tying up with the Congress will send out strong signals to the Muslims that any future tie-up with the BJP is a non-option for Akhilesh.
It must be said to the credit of both Akhilesh and the Congress that they could maintain back channel negotiations, away from the prying eyes of mediapersons who were too engrossed in the Yadav Saas-Bahu serial. Most probably this has been the handiwork of Prashant Kishor. But, anywhere close to a hundred seats that the Congress is reported to have demanded would be too high a price to pay for Akhilesh and, in fact, may adversely affect the electoral prospects of the alliance.
However, if by riding on the pillion of Akhilesh’s cycle the Congress manages to come home, it will be a major boost for Rahul Gandhi. On top of that should Captain Amarinder Singh pull off a miracle in Punjab, then one shall not hear the end of it till 2019.
Here the BJP’s plans may come unstuck, not just because they have not declared a Chief Ministerial candidate (it may actually prove to be a blessing in disguise) but also on account of infighting within the party, signs of which are already apparent. Amit Shah’s analytics based electioneering can take them only up to a point even if RSS workers throw their lot with the BJP like they had done in the Lok Sabha polls.
But, Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone will not be able to bring the ship to berth, no matter how large are the crowds he draws at rallies, as was demonstrated in Bihar. Modi’s personal ratings may still run high, but voters will rather preserve it for 2019 and now vote for the one they think is the best choice for Chief Minister of the state.
The most impacted by these dynamic shifts is Mayawati, who has also been worst hit by the double whammy of demonetisation. This was starkly visible in the lack-lustre birthday celebration where the customary garlands of currency notes had to be dispensed with this year, presumably due to the shortage of cash. She may yet manage to retain her core Dalit constituency that the BJP has been eyeing, but the minority votes may elude her despite fielding a large number Muslim candidates.
At the moment, therefore, it clearly looks like advantage Akhilesh. If he can maintain the present form and make up for the time lost in the last few weeks, there could well be an Akhilesh wave in these elections. Then, one cannot rule out the father coming to bless the son and embracing him saying “Beta, all is forgiven. How can I disown my own son?” And it will be a happy united family once again – at least till 2019.