Less than half an hour after Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav embarked on his Vikas Rath Yatra, flagged off by his father and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav at La Martiniere ground in an unexpected show of familial unity after the recent acrimony, his hi-tech, customised ‘Mercedes rath’ broke down barely 500 metres into the journey.
When the driver failed to restart the engine, Akhilesh disembarked and left in an SUV, leaving the mammoth vehicle stranded in the middle of one of the busiest roads of Lucknow. Even stationary, the rath, a Mercedes bus, became a showstopper, with around half-a-dozen policemen from the chief minister’s security team jostling with passersby who stopped their cars to gaze at the blazing red 10-wheeler, adorned with photographs of Akhilesh, Mulayam and socialist leaders Jaiprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Janeshwar Mishra. Some even managed to break the ring of security and posed in front of the rath for photographs, with guards struggling to prevent them from touching the vehicle.
Two mechanics from a local Mercedes Benz workshop were rushed to the spot to revive the rath, which stood at Kalidas Marg Chowk, from where it was supposed to turn to Lohia Path, one of the key infrastructure projects developed by Akhilesh’s father in Lucknow. After a two-hour struggle, they gave up. At around 3 pm, the traffic police brought in a crane to tow it away, but due to the jammed wheels of the rath, it did not budge an inch. Engineers from Delhi were summoned, but they were yet to reach till evening.
A mechanic said the rath had been developed at a cost of around Rs 5 crore. Re-designed to suit the CM, the Mercedes bus has world-class interiors and is equipped with top-of-the-line gadgets and amenities. Secured with bullet-proof glass on all sides, it is divided into two sectors — office and beyond. The office area is where Akhilesh can hold a meeting with around five to six people. The other area comprises a kitchen, a reclining area and a plush washroom.
The bus has Internet facility with 4G speed. Akhilesh can also make video calls from the rath. The vehicle is fitted with LED screens to play creatives (videos, photos, photo videos), showcasing the achievements of the Akhilesh government. It also has a modern acoustic system and an elevator which can transport the CM to the roof to interact with a larger audience. Security cameras have been fitted on all four sides. The exterior of the bus carries the names of schemes of the Akhilesh government, like Lohia Awas, laptop distribution, Metro rail project and a women’s helpline.
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Saurabh Yadav, a member of SP’s youth wing, who had come to attend the yatra from Allahabad, said the breakdown had caused an unnecessary distraction from the event. “The opposition parties will enjoy this situation. Those responsible should have been careful to check the vehicle properly,” he said. Chandrabhan Singh Yadav, an aged SP worker from Jhansi, said, “It appears that this is some intra-party conspiracy. Some people may have done it so that the vehicle could not go further.”
At around 4.30 pm, another crane was brought in, but the traffic police decided against another rescue attempt, fearing damage. At the end of the day, all that could be done was to beef up security around the rath, as traffic had increased, and so had its admirers.