If the Samajwadi Party seems a different party this election,a ltarge part of the credit goes to its state president,Akhilesh Yadav. Mulayam Singh Yadavs son is delivering a similar message of hope,change and development to the Uttar Pradesh electorate as Rahul Gandhi,and is 38 compared to the Congresss 41-year-old youth yuvraj.
Its not just the message thats new,though,so is the medium. Helping Akhilesh is a team of young leaders,handpicked by him. Senior leaders may be squirming,especially following an election advertisement that underlined the new face of the SP,but so far Akhilesh has had his way,replacing old warhorses with aides from backgrounds as distant as radio jockeying,who handle everything from logistics and feedback of the SP leaders campaign to his security. The core team:
Sunil Yadav: Regarded as the eyes and ears of Akhilesh,Sunil Yadav (31),hailing from Unnao,is a former president of the citys Jai Narain Degree College Students Union. Commonly known as Sajan among friends,Sunil was the architect of the first agitation by the SP against the current BSP government,on January 8,2008,when it sought restoration of the students union and opposed fee hike. When he was beaten up by the police and jailed for 19 days,Akhilesh sat on his first dharna,outside the SSP Lucknows office.
Sunil Yadavs position was cemented as police continued to crack down on SP men. While Leader of the Opposition Shivpal Yadav was slapped by a policeman,an SP worker lost his life in police firing. Another committed self-immolation at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
By the time Mulayam had withdrawn the agitation,Sunil was a known name in the party. Currently national president of the SPs students wing,Sunil again shot into news when he was pinned down by Lucknow DIG D K Thakur during an SP agitation against price rise in Lucknow on April 9,2011. He broke his hand and was sent to prison.
Although denied ticket from Sarojini Nagar in Lucknow,Sunils clout in party is now unquestioned. Akhilesh trusted him with preparing confidential reports of constituencies and candidates,and changed many nominations based on the same. The man from a modest background now also makes advance preparations for all of Akhileshs visits and rallies,and handles workers grievances.
Anand Bhadauria: A Thakur face in Akhileshs team,Bhadauria (35) was also thrashed by DIG Thakur during the April agitation. The infamous photo showing the DIG pinning him down under his boot led to an NHRC inquiry. Later,the soft-spoken Bhadauria was elevated as national president of Lohia Vahini,a frontal organisation of the SP. After the advance team headed by Sunil completes its work at a place Akhilesh is visiting,Bhadauria takes over. The reaction and response which Akhileshs visit generates is quietly collected and passed on to him. Hailing from Sitapur,Bhadauria enrolled for a bachelors degree in law but dropped out. He is into politics full time and says his family supports him.
Nafees Ahmed: The Muslim face in Akhileshs team,Nafees is a former president of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Students Union. Hailing from Azamgarh,Nafees was picked by Akhilesh to accompany him when his rath ventured into Muslim areas. Currently Nafees is state president of the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha and is entrusted with important assigments in Muslim-dominated areas.
When the resentment over allottment of ticket to former education minister Dr Masood Ahmed in Tanda flared up,Nafees was dispatched to Ambedkar Nagar and Dr Masood was replaced with Azimul Haque. No one at the time believed a 30-something youth could ensure change of candidature of a stalwart like Dr Masood Ahmed.
Party insiders say Nafees keeps a low profile so as not to annoy the other SP Muslim face,Azam Khan. Nafees has now been sent to Moradabad to ensure that local Muslim leaders work as a team. Hailing from a humble background,Nafees is a graduate and also a full-time politician. His family owns a shoe shop and also does farming in Azamgarh.
Rajeev Rai: When Rajeev was handpicked as national secretary of the party in 2011,many thought it was because of his money power. Based in Bangalore,Rajeev was entrusted the responsibility of interacting with the electronic media,an honour reserved in for party stalwarts earlier.
Many senior leaders took exception,but Akhilesh prevailed. A schedule of Rajeev for one day gives an idea of his tight schedule. On February 16,Rai was on Star News between 6-7 pm,then News 24 from 7.45 to 8.30 pm,Sahara Samay from 8.45 to 9.20 pm,and then NDTV India between 10-11 pm.
A Bhumihar from Ballia,Rajvi runs educational institutions in Bangalore,including 11 colleges. He also owns the pharmacy college where he once studied.
Jagat Singh: This well-built Thakur from Pithoragarh shares good comradeship with Akhilesh and is responsible for his security. Akhilesh relies on these private security guards more as they travel with him inside his rath during rallies. Akhilesh and Jagat have known each for two decades and share a common interest in football. His only childhood friend in his team,Akhilesh calls him Jagga. The two can be seen sharing jokes during the campaign trail. A part-time contractor,Jagat did his postgraduation in physical education.
Vijay Chauhan: He is regarded a foreigner in the group,as he studied in Australia. Chauhan is a family friend of the Yadavs as his village in Mainpuri is close to their native Saifai. Son of a brigadier,Chauhan is known to be no-nonsense and aloof from politics,but who has modernised the SPs information system. The SP accounts on social networking sites and its website are all managed by Chauhan.
He operates from a plush office in Lohia Trust,that shares a common wall with the state party headquarters,and is out of bound for party workers. Apart from keeping the website newsy with photos,videos etc,Chauhan also keeps an eye on what the opponents are doing. Chauhan studied at Bond University in Australia and owns several factories,one of whom manufacturers bullet-proof vests at Manesar in Haryana.
Chauhan can rarely be seen without latest electronic gadgetry,including his precious iPad.
Naved Siddiqui: Many laughed when this radio jockey,associated with Radio Mirchi,was appointed state secretary of the SP by Akhilesh. A known voice among listeners,he had a brief stint in the Congress where he headed the sports and cultural wing. Hailing from Lucknow,Naved was received with open arms by Akhilesh into the SP. With his commanding voice and oratory skills,he was a regular fixture in Akhileshs rath. When the rath yatra ended,Naved was given the responsibility of articulating party views on English TV channels. Hailing from a respectable Muslim Sheikh family of Lucknow,Naved still pursues his original profession and hosts shows on All India Radio FM.