Akhilesh Yadav stands tall as SP leader, all by himself
Having been a dumb follower of his father and uncles all this while, his impressive Vikas Yatra establishes him as a leader.
Ridiculed by the father and repeatedly betrayed by uncles, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav finally rose to the occasion and put up an impressive show of strength in Lucknow on Thursday which all his adversaries were likely to envy.
The 42-year-old CM of India’s most populous state, who stood so far only under the shadow of his father and multiple overbearing uncles , chose to set out on his own by kicking off the Samajwadi Party campaign ahead of the 2017 state Assembly elections, through what he called the “vikas se vijay ki oar” rath yatra.
Besides getting father Mulayam to flag-off the much-awaited yatra, there is very little that the old guard has to do with the show, that was joined by tens of thousands of Akhilesh's supporters who had started pouring in from different corners of the state from Wednesday afternoon itself.
Chacha Shivpal, with whom Akhilesh was clearly at war, did make it a point to be seen on the high podium at the mega event, but he was discreetly kept out of the event, that was essentially aimed at sending the message far and wide that the buck in the SP will now stop with Akhilesh.
Even posters and banners plastered along the entire route of the procession clearly conveyed that they recognised only Akhilesh as their leader. Even as Mulayam figured in most posters, Shivpal remained conspicuous by his absence on any such display.
On the contrary, some of Shivpal’s posters for SP's silver jubilee celebrations on November 5 did carry pictures of Akhilesh. Significantly, one of the pro-Akhilesh posters went to the extent of not just describing him as “2017 ran kshetra ke nayak" (commander of battleground 2017), but also as “bahubali” (the ultimate warrior).
Perched atop the special rath - custom-made out of a Mercedes Benz bus - Akhilesh sailed out of the sprawling La Martiniere College grounds at 10.30 on Thursday morning, followed by a couple of thousand vehicles.
Akhilesh made it a point to repeatedly emerge on top of the "rath" in a bullet-proof glass lift to wave out or to address his audience wherever the overwhelming crowds insisted for a brief halt.
Interestingly, this was the same ground where nearly three decades ago Mulayam had organised a mammoth rally by bringing various socialist leaders from different parts of the country under the common banner of then Janata Dal.
Meandering through the crowded city thoroughfares, the long motorcade took to the ring road and from there over to the highway, leading to Unnao, barely 60 km away, where the first leg of Akhilesh’s journey concludes later this evening.Akhilesh made it a point to repeatedly emerge on top of the "rath" to wave out. (Photo credit: Reuters)
It was another matter that the smart gen-next "rath" developed a technical snag barely 500m from the starting point . But, undaunted by the jinx, Akhilesh readily got on to a standby Mercedes SUV with an openable top from where he could spring up to give an audience to his supporters and fans.
Having been a dumb follower of his father and uncles even after he became chief minister in March 2012, this was the first time when he was out to establish himself as a leader.
Not only were the organisers of the show handpicked up by him, Akhilesh kept distance with the party organisation, held by Shivpal who had not very long ago replaced him as the party’s state president.
Ironically, most of those engaged in making the rally a mega affair were those whom Shivpal had declared as persona non-grata of the party and had either expelled them or suspended them from its primary membership.
The presence of Mulayam, Shivpal and Akhilesh on a common dais after a round of fireworks in the state’s ruling family was clearly meant to send the message around that the warring members had sunk their differences and that the house was once again in order.
However, as the motorcade took off from the venue, Shivpal and his supporters moved away to get down to preparing for their independent show - the party’s silver jubilee celebrations on Saturday. Interestingly, Akhilesh too proposes to make a symbolic appearance at that event - also to be inaugurated by Mulayam.
Earlier, while addressing the audience, Akhilesh emphasised on how his development agenda alone would take him ahead of all political rivals. Without spelling it out in as many words, he sought to convey that it was time for the SP to rise beyond the politics of caste and religion.
He said he had fulfilled all the promises that were made by the party in its election manifesto. The young chief minister exuded confidence that the development he had ensured through some of his dream projects like the Lucknow Metro, the six-lane access control Lucknow-Agra expressway, the international cricket stadium, as also the four-lane inter-district road links across the state’s 75 districts, besides affecting drastic improvement in the power supply position, would go a long way in ensuring the party’s return to power.
Mulayam , however, did not seem to be quite impressed by the repeated cheers that son Akhilesh was getting from the surging crowds. And that was reflected in his repeated references to the sacrifices he and his older bangwagon had made to build the SP from scratch.
“Echoing cheers by the crowds may sound very impressive but the real test comes when you have to face ‘lathis’ (cane) of the police; I have seen how, many people who loudly cheer their leaders, are nowhere to be seen when one is confronted with the odds or is in the midst of adverse situations,” the SP patriarch told the crowds .
Yet, in an obvious bid to spread the word that the family, sharply divided until a few days back, stood united once again, both Shivpal and Mulayam made it a point to endorse that they would want to not only see the SP win the next election, but also have none other than Akhilesh don the mantle of chief minister yet again.