UP elections have always been intriguing and most of the times for the wrong reasons. This is one state where political leaders have always been riddled with controversies, be it from criminalized and caste-based politics, to corruption and scams. But this year, controversy seems to have taken a new shape. With the rise of a young and dynamic leader in UP, the scenario here would change soon. Against expectations, Samajwadi Party (SP) suddenly came out and swept the elections. This sweeping victory cannot be credited to anyone else other than Akhilesh Yadav – a young politician who never projected himself as the Chief Minister, even after the victory. But then, SP read the minds and hearts of the electorate and decided to make Akhilesh the CM. And thus a new star was born in Uttar Pradesh!
Akhilesh Yadav, son of UP strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav, steered SP to a sensational victory in the state assembly, a victory that decimated all their political rivals. Uttar Pradesh may be the biggest state in India (and hence politically most important) but certainly, it is not the best governed state. Even though the state sends the maximum number of MPs to the Centre, it has been perpetually ripped apart through generations (how else would one describe the agenda of UP’s division) by the communal, casteist, self-indulgent, and shortsighted chieftains to meet their short term goals. The last two decades probably have been the worst for the state when Mayawati and Mulayam Singh reduced the politics in the state to nothing but a jungle raj! The battle was almost lost for UP, had it not been Akhilesh Yadav taking centre stage to rechristen the state with long-lost optimism and hope. His performance speaks for itself for he is the one who rightly represents today’s youth. Amidst many other young politicians, his one young face shines the brightest, and all because of his calm, pleasant, confident and positive attitude which most of the other young politicians in India comprehensively lack.
Amidst the praise and starry eyes of hope that surround him, one cannot undermine the immensely difficult and daunting task ahead. And that’s exactly what happened within days of his winning. The same media, which lavished much praise on this young man for winning, wrote him off overnight the moment he announced his cabinet. Along with the infamous Raja Bhaiya, his cabinet of 47 ministers (that is much smaller than his father’s jumbo cabinet of 97 ministers) had as many as 28 with a criminal background. All I can say is that it’s not easy to win elections in a state like UP and any other party’s cabinet would have looked quite the same if history and Indian politics are things to go by. Akhilesh inherited a party, which had a history of harbouring thugs and goons. Their inbred nature certainly cannot be changed by merely snapping off ties! And if Akhilesh tries to replace them abruptly, it will create such an upheaval that his government could even fall. Akhilesh in his campaign did stress repeatedly of clean and transparent governance by scientifically sidelining the criminals. However, let’s as of now assume this cabinet to be his political compulsion! He perhaps had no choice but to induct these people to safeguard his government. But to his credit, he smartly and cleverly kept the ‘head’ of all thugs away from his cabinet. Despite huge pressure, he didn’t allow DP Yadav to become part of his team – smartly cutting the umbilical cord of all thugs from their mastermind.
This allowed him to win support and confidence of all minorities and those pockets of population that underwent immense subjection during the reign of DP Yadav and the likes. Akhilesh cleverly kept all key ministries with himself (that would allow him to keep a track of all funds and curtail embezzlement). More than 100 contestants of SP were below 40 years of age with many having professional degrees of medicine, engineering, management and science.
The first name in team Akhilesh that must find a place in any reference is Abhishek Mishra, a 35-year old gentleman with a PhD from Cambridge and a professor at IIM Ahmedabad. A friend of Akhilesh, Abhishek was persuaded by the former to join his team after 6 years of teaching at IIM-A in the field of strategy and innovation. And what an astounding strategy he made in Akhilesh’s manifesto and campaign! He was the man behind the criticism-free election campaign strategy and the ploy of advertising in the media outlets.
Then comes Tej Narayan Pandey, a close friend of Akhilesh, an ex-student union vice president in UP with a resounding influence on student unions. He was instrumental in mobilizing the student unions in favour of Akhilesh. He is all set to head the Home and Finance ministries besides key departments like administration, vigilance, tax and registration, education, housing, IT and many others. A quick glance would be enough to gauge the intelligence and technocracy Akhilesh possesses. He cleverly gave the less-important ministries to old and non-performing cabinet ministers and gave specialized ministries to talented and educated ministers. Something that the Centre also needs to learn.
As his credibility and his ability to govern are left to litmus test, one might ask oneself, what made his election campaign click. Akhilesh not only confronted Mayawati but also the apparent youth icon Rahul Gandhi. What differentiated Akhilesh from Rahul? Akhilesh’s campaign had a positive conjecture that talked about development and progress and did not stupidly criticise his rivals. On the contrary, Rahul Gandhi had two serious drawbacks. First, even though he campaigned hard, he like his forefathers had a tendency to treat the electorate as his own fiefdom. And second, the people of UP didn’t forget the anti-corruption campaign against Congress that kicked up the dust so much in recent times.
Further, Akhilesh represents youth and modernity. His father was against teaching of English in schools – Akhilesh opposes that decision. Akhilesh has also promised freebies like free laptops to the students, allowance to unemployed and free treatment in the state run hospitals. Rahul on the other hand scratched old wounds and spoke on dead issues like Batla House, 9 per cent reservation for Muslims etc etc.
Moreover, the Congress failed to match SP with respect to new and dynamic faces. Rahul’s coterie had literally no new faces – or shall I say, no new visionaries – and thus failed to read the pulse of people and drummed up old songs of caste and reservation. This was in spite of a survey in June 2011 by the Election Commission that revealed how 30 per cent of voters discouraged caste politics and looked for merit in the candidate.
To sum it up, Akhilesh’s tireless efforts of 10,000 kilometres yatra and 800 rallies in 6 months found him miles ahead of his adversaries. It was during this travel that he was able to reach out to every single voter and explain to them the renewed ideology of his party. He not only became accessible but also soon became a household name. Akhilesh promised to fulfil every single promise that was mentioned in their 24-page manifesto. The manifesto, unlike other manifestos, covered all dimensions of development and didn’t utter any derogatory word either about the opposition or about the state’s current situation. The manifesto promised to discontinue politically-inclined transfers of bureaucrats and only consider their past record during appointments and transfer. Non-rhetoric and modern promises were drafted for education and health. Beside these, many encouraging promises were made for developing agriculture, rural infrastructure and attracting investments in UP.
Maintaining his reputation of being tech-savvy and accessible, Akhilesh also manages SP’s youth Facebook page; and unlike other political parties, his page is more about genuine discussion and not filled with criticism. On the one hand where Congress’s YouTube portal had footage of rallies and speeches and BSP sites were (and are) filled with hate-words about Congress and other rival parties, SP uploaded videos where they talked about improving civic amenities and social development.
Speaking chronologically, it all began in March 2011 when Akhilesh latently rephrased SP’s old propaganda of having no English medium education and instead promoted new technology oriented education. But the entire campaigning took a new wave on November 22, 2011 when SP launched its new and revamped website. The site today has details on party chiefs, ideology, history, leadership, campaigns, achievements and above all, resumes of a few chief party candidates.
His team of professionals (psephologists, copywriters, creative designers and media planners) gave a new meaning to all their old and outdated campaigns – all this was spearheaded by Akhilesh himself. SP re-launched themselves as an ‘ummeed ki cycle’ (the cycle of hope) and made sure that their ads reached all. Their ads promoted the party’s facebook, twitter, email and office contact details and also were published in leading national dailies. A special ad launched on November 22, 2011 read, “...This is an era of open and free exchanges of opinions and ideas. All of us need to communicate with those whom we consider our well-wishers and friends... The world today belongs to those who are not behind closed doors, to those who are with the people, always, at all times.” Most of their print ads talked about societal development agendas and did not contain the conventional self glorifying spiel. But amidst all these, what actually made SP connect to people was Akilesh’s ‘Kranti Rath Yatra’ which allowed him to cover all his constituencies (on cycle or rath); and in this case, he covered more than 10,000 km of UP. It’s an undeniable fact that even the brigade of India’s young politicians today has resorted to dirty politics and vote-bank oriented agenda – these by no measure represent dynamism and youth. Unlike such peers of his, Akhilesh kept the very essence of youth and dynamism high and did what a young and revolutionary politician should have done. Keeping dirty politics at bay, he adopted the path of positivity and worked hard to pave his way to power.
However, having said all this, it was not a simple open and shut case of Akhilesh came, Akhilesh saw and Akhilesh conquered. All this was done through meticulous planning, dedication, and hard work. Akhilesh has created frenzy and an aura of deliverables. It is much like the situation when Mamata Banerjee came to power with waves of support, euphoria and renewed hope for West Bengal. Akhilesh did not just win the elections, he swept it. And unlike most other state elections that bring in the hope of better performance, this particular election in UP signifies a turnaround bordering miracle that has the possibility of changing the state’s scenario forever. Let’s hope Akhilesh’s promises and character finally overshadow his initial political compulsions – let’s not judge him solely by his cabinet. Let’s give him time to deliver despite this cabinet; for after all, he has ended Mayawati’s horrendous regime, and just for that he deserves more time to prove his worth.
- 30 March 2012 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics