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Eye on 2019, young CM Akhilesh Yadav likely to weather party storm

Akhilesh has emerged from his father’s shadow, and left Rahul Gandhi behind in many of the political arts; war may end in his success in long run

Written by Sheela Bhatt | New Delhi |
December 31, 2016 2:42:01 am
elections 2017, assembly elections, national elections 2019, akhilesh expelled, Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav, Ramgopal yadav, Akhilesh expelled, UP polls, UP elections, elections 2017, assembly elections Akhilesh Yadav at a function in Lucknow Friday. Vishal Srivastav

The expulsion of Akhilesh Yadav from the Samajwadi Party by his father Mulayam Singh Yadav is unlikely to dent the young chief minister’s plans for the future. The divide in Mulayam’s clan is a challenge that Akhilesh is trying his best to convert into an opportunity. He is ambitious, and is looking to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Akhilesh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are the two great political survivors of 2016. They are also leaders who are likely to face each other on 80 crucial Lok Sabha seats in about two and a half years.

Modi did the unthinkable by withdrawing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8. In spite of the expected slowing of the economy in the next two quarters, in the realms of politics, he is likely to remain largely unchallenged. The big moment for his gamble could come on Budget day, when people who have backed him will look for some kind of delivery on his promises.

On the strategically important battleground of Lucknow, Akhilesh is entering 2017 in a win-win situation about his future. Even if his party loses power in the coming assembly election — not impossible given the bitter fights and deep split in the Samajwadi Party — Akhilesh is here to stay.

His rule produced nothing to fundamentally transform UP, but his positive language and restraint before cameras helped him survive the state’s muddy politics in 2016. The ongoing war of succession is likely to end in his favour in the long run, because he has taken a political risk only after gaining crucial experience in running a difficult state. The success of his rule can be questioned, but he did not fail his supporters.

With a smile on his face, Akhilesh has wrestled the challenges coming his way from his stepmother, Sadhana, who has influence over his ageing and ailing father, his bitter fight with Amar Singh, his uncle Shivpal Yadav, and many ministers who thrived by creating rifts between father and son.

Since 2014, Akhilesh has also taken on Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in politically sensitive Varanasi and in areas stretching up to Gorakhpur in eastern UP. He has projected a certain public image through consistent, high-cost advertising in national dailies, and by giving freebies to women and youth. In his attempts to grow beyond his father’s Muslim-Yadav base, he has established himself as an option for a cross-section of voters.

The comparison of Akhilesh with Rahul Gandhi is interesting. Both are products of dynastic politics, but while Rahul is struggling on multiple fronts, Akhilesh has marched ahead. No more is he ridiculed as Mulayam’s babua — and his rebellion, with the release of his own list of 235 candidates, will help him to plot his individual trajectory. In contrast, Rahul’s partymen do not yet see him to be as capable as his mother Sonia, whose wisdom they trusted.

The Congress tom-toms secularism as its non-negotiable political plank. Since 2002, it has done everything to resist the rise of Narendra Modi — and yet, Rahul has failed to strike a chord with the Muslims of UP. Akhilesh’s delayed responses and status quoist approach on issues of Hindu-muslim faultlines are, on the other hand, no less clever than any more experienced politician’s.

The SP faced a crisis of confidence among minorities in the wake of 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and the Dadri mob lynching of 2015. Akhilesh did not allow a CBI inquiry into the riots, and managed to shift the blame on officials and police. He expressed sympathy and compassion for Mohammad Akhlaq’s family, and gave them substantial financial help, including two homes.

Since the 1980s, the SP was all about Mulayam. The three-time chief minister was the one-man-institution that lakhs of both Sunni and Shia Muslims in UP trusted. Now, in the villages of Eastern and Western UP, and Awadh, the cycle and Akhilesh are equally well known. He has created space for himself without tripping on the political landmines of caste, the Hindu-Muslim divide, and the ‘nationalism’ debate. At 43, Akhilesh is three years younger to Rahul, but has achieved what Rahul could have done long ago in Delhi’s politics. While using the development card freely, Akhilesh has taken care to also nurture his Yadav identity.

The young CM is also not as self-righteous as Rahul, or even Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. He and his wife, Dimple Yadav, have kept the disproportionate assets case they face out of public discourse. The pension scheme, ambulance service, free laptops and bicycles haven’t negated the serious law and order issue and insecurity among many non-Yadav communities, but by opposing tickets given by his father to musclemen and the corrupt, Akhilesh has sent out a powerful signal.

While identifying with people’s difficulties in the wake of notebandi, a smiling Akhilesh told reporters, “Some experts told me that even black money is good for the economy.” Not taking extreme positions allows him to escape awkward situations of retreat if things go wrong. SP’s troubles will enthuse Mayawati, but Akhilesh is likely to project himself as a victim of hard times.

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