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History-sheeters crowd SP list; crime no longer the buzzword

Last September,when the Samajwadi Party launched its UP election campaign,Mulayam Singh Yadav,whose government had been voted out in 2007 for letting loose “bullies” and “ruffians” in the state,put his son Akhilesh Yadav in the driver’s seat and withdrew into the background.

Over the next four months,Akhilesh Yadav travelled extensively on his “Samajwadi Kranti Rath”, which is actually an improvised LCV fitted with a cabin and some basic facilities,and addressed public meetings in more than 200 constituencies,emerging the new face of the party.

Two factors had driven Mulayam Singh Yadav to make the change. One,the rise of the Congress under a young Rahul Gandhi in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections — it won more seats than anyone had imagined,least of all the Samajwadi Party whose humiliating terms for an electoral alliance the Congress had refused to accept.

Two,the fate of his fellow Mandalite and secularist Lalu Prasad in neighbouring Bihar. Like Mulayam,Lalu too thought he had cobbled together a winning Muslim-Yadav combination forever.

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In a state where,according to latest figures,about 60 per cent of the 1.2 crore electorate is below 40,the SP badly needed someone who could relate with the young voters,rather than ideological dinosaurs who thought computers and English education were evils that needed to be banished.

Akhilesh is educated,young,fresh,free from any taint of the past,and looks like somebody who deserves a chance. Unlike Rahul Gandhi,with whom he is sometimes compared,he is a son of the soil,at ease communicating in the local dialect. He is also accessible and can be informal in his interactions. All this served very well to project a positive image of the Samajwadi Party.

Events in recent weeks have,however,shown that it has been,as best,a cosmetic change.

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Once again,the SP has given tickets to criminal elements,including history-sheeters and so-called youth and student leaders who have a notorious past,reviving memories of the worst days of Mulayam’s regime when even police officers,let alone common people,were not safe.

Incidentally,in their speeches,both Akhilesh and Mulayam — who is now again becoming active and who,Akhilesh has said,will be chief minister if the SP wins — rarely speak against criminal outrages by Mayawati’s men. Instead,their focus is the BSP government’s corruption,and waste of huge sums on parks,memorials and statues of Mayawati.

Much has been made of Akhilesh’s action in blocking the entry of western UP’s history-sheeter D P Yadav in the party,in spite of the fact that the latter enjoyed the backing of Mulayam’s brother Shivpal Singh Yadav and Azam Khan. Akhilesh said that there was no place in the party for such elements.

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Actually,Akhilesh’s statement was little more than moral posturing in the family’s internal power struggle,which has been going on since he replaced uncle Shivpal as state party president two-and-a-half years ago.

Only a few weeks ago,Akhilesh and Shivpal had clashed over the induction of PWD Minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui’s brother Hasanuddin Siddiqui in the party. In Lambhua in Sultanpur district,the party candidate was changed seven times because of the family’s internal battles.

By backing Akhilesh against the lobbying for D P Yadav’s induction by his own brother and Khan,Mulayam tried to settle the issue of political succession; he even removed veteran spokesman Mohan Singh for making a statement disagreeing with Akhilesh. It was a message meant for all those in the party and the family — mainly the family — who had missed the point of putting Akhilesh in charge of the campaign in the first place.

As for the SP’s politics,it is business as usual,and the selection of candidates is only the most glaring example. Its other major problem — besides the dubious record of its government — is that,despite its secularist posturing,large sections of Muslims still nurse a mistrust of Mulayam since his handshake for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections with Kalyan Singh,the BJP chief minister during whose tenure the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.

Mulayam’s subsequent mea culpa helped bring back Azam Khan and some other Muslim leaders into the SP fold,but it has not been enough. The carte blanche Mulayam Singh gave Khan in the selection of Muslim candidates has created fresh problems,particularly in western UP where Muslims have a substantial presence.

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Now,as the election dates draw closer,one can sense a desperation in Mulayam. In the last few days,he has promised free power and water to farmers,a handsome unemployment allowance,a loan waiver of Rs 50,000 and much else. In the coming days,he may promise more.

Obviously,the induction of a new,young leader hasn’t signalled new ideas in the party.

First published on: 18-01-2012 at 03:34:33 am
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