Narendra Modi had altered the narrative that revolved around him to that of the hyperbolic identity of a “Vikaas Purush”. He concentrated his efforts to remap the graph of Gujarat and transform it into a strong development hub. During the 2014 elections, the BJP touted Gujarat’s remarkable industrious sheen as a case study of how India could look in the future if Modi was elected Prime Minister. That new narrative worked and Modi was catapulted to power.
Akhilesh Yadav, the scion of the Samajwadi Party and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, seems to have paid close attention to the drum of development Modi had been beating. Therefore, even though at a superficial level, the Samajwadi Party continues to project itself as a party that is concerned with catering to the needs of both Hindus and Muslims, the tech-savvy Yadav is going all out to shift the party’s focus and concentrate on UP’s infrastructural growth and technological advancement to garner youth votes. Not only did he concentrate on establishing a Metro in Lucknow (which had its first trail run today and will open in March 2017 for public use), but he also made it his agenda to distribute laptops for free to students who were economically underprivileged, but stood out for merit.
Back in 1992, when the Samajwadi Party emerged under the tactful leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the narrative built around the party was that it will attend to the needs and concerns of the Dalits and Muslims. Mulayam Singh Yadav had pieced together the party months before the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and the party’s identity was sculpted and chiseled by a strong partnership between Muslim and Hindu voters. However, the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots in Uttar Pradesh brought about a tectonic shift, marring the Samajwadi Party’s image. It left many Muslims ignored and infuriated, when Mulayam Singh’s son and their Chief Minister Akhilesh had done little to pacify or address grievances of the community. While Akhilesh publicly did not condone the riots, he seemed sluggish in terms of responding to the needs of Muzaffarnagar residents.
Today, however, like Modi, who has managed to obliterate (to a considerable extent) the stains of the Gujarat riots, Akhilesh Yadav too, has tried to redefine his identity. Like Modi, who meticulously worked towards carving out a formidable identity of his own – the no-nonsense, indomitable “Vikaas Purush” – Akhilesh Yadav who was called out as a weak Chief Minister post the riots too, emerged determined to build his own brand identity as a foresighted politician who’d concentrate all his energies into ensuring the state’s rapid economic growth.
Of course, for a considerable period of time, Akhilesh Yadav was the Crown Prince who appeared fettered by the looming persona of his father and uncle Shivpal Yadav. Even though Akhilesh Yadav held the position of Chief Minister, he had his father as a vociferous backseat driver, calling the shots for the party. In 2016, however, Akhilesh began slowly, albeit ostensibly, steering away from his lineage and the identity linked with his father, positioning himself as a serious politician with a different agenda in mind.
He went on an unprecedented publicity overdrive. From newspaper and television advertisements, to billboards and radio messages, Akhilesh was everywhere, promoting himself as an economic clairvoyant who was keen to look after Uttar Pradesh’s “tomorrow”. A few months ago, he released a video that presented him as a serious, yet warm family man; as a caring husband and a doting father who always had his family’s concerns at the forefront. There was an obvious parallel drawn between Akhilesh’s immediate family and his state. Mulayam Singh’s absence from these unbridled publicity shticks triggered curiosity and speculation of a possible discord between father and son. The rift soon became apparent and extremely public, which resulted last week in Mulayam Singh severing himself from Akhilesh and kicking his son out of the party.
Interestingly, BJP’s identity morphed into Modi’s overarching image: the party piggybacked to success on Modi’s clout, winning the 2014 elections. Today, without Modi, BJP possibly would falter, skid and collapse. Similarly, Akhilesh Yadav is considered as the face of the Samajwadi Party, not Mulayam Singh nor Shivpal Yadav. For a considerable period of time, Akhilesh Yadav’s identity was inextricably linked to his lineage – the successor of a party built craftily by his father. However, the political chasm between him and his father really exhibited who emerged as the victor. In fact, Akhilesh has been able to galvanise unprecedented support from his followers. When Mulayam sacked his son, all hell broke loose. The political feud eventually culminated in Ram Gopal Yadav (Mulayam Singh’s cousin and Akhilesh’s aide) holding a national convention with Akhilesh in Lucknow, where the latter enacted a party coup against Mulayam Singh. Over 5000 supports attended the convention and heralded Akhilesh as the party’s official chief, in favour of dethroning Mulayam.
It’s important to note while Modi consciously projects himself as the nation’s well-wisher who has his people’s best interests in mind; a do-gooder who steers clear of corruption, Akhilesh has too managed to present himself in a similar manner. The Caravan profile of Yadav mentioned the adjectives used by his close friends and his political rivals to describe Akhilesh: “well-behaved, respectful, gracious, and sharif, or courteous.” Of course, Modi is a calculative Machiavellian in comparison to Akhilesh, but the latter is still young and can possibly, eventually, transform into a political mastermind himself. But what needs to be understood and highlighted here is that like Modi, Akhilesh presents himself as a transparent politician, clear of any corruption charges. In fact, in September he threw out UP’s Mining Minister Gayatri Prajapati who was embroiled in illegal mining allegations and Panchayti Raj Minister Rajkishore Singh who was charge for land-related corruption.
While Modi and Akhilesh Yadav may have contrasting political and familial backgrounds – one is the son of a tea-stall owner, while the other was born to a political patriarch and was sent to Australia to pursue his Masters – both have have understood the pulse of the nation. They strongly appeal to the youth, focusing their political agenda on the overarching theme of development that is anchored in technological advancement and employment generation.
Modi uses his fortnightly Mann ki Baat along with his Twitter pages to address the nation and keep the citizens engaged. Mann ki Baat became a strong political tool, which led the citizens to believe they were active participants, in the loop and ‘in the know’ of what their Prime Minister had in his agenda. Modi’s Twitter page allowed his followers to not only be engaged with what he was doing, but it also functioned as a medium where they could interact with him. Interestingly, Akhilesh Yadav already knew the positives of social media and had initiated the ‘Talk to Your CM’ campaign on his Facebook Page back in 2014, aimed at seeking advice/recommendations from the people in his state, particularly the youth.
While so far Akhilesh Yadav has done well for himself, it remains to be seen if like Modi he is able to leverage all this for electoral success.