Will Akhilesh emerge from his father’s shadow?by Saeed Naqvi
IS THERE a whiff of fresh air about Samajwadi Party’s 38-year-old Akhilesh Yadav being sworn in as the chief minister in Lucknow? I was in a cheerful frame of mind about the event until the pundits waylaid me.
‘The goons are back,’ said one. ‘How will Akhilesh ever control them?’
‘You mean Raja Bhaiyya?’ I asked.
‘His crimes derive from his feudal temperament,’ said the pundit.
He then rattled off a host of other ‘real goons’.
‘And do you know?’ asked another conspiratorially. ‘Mulayam Singh has planted on him the same IAS officer Anita Singh as his secretary, the very same whose name was linked with Mulayam Singh.’ He winked wickedly.
The third, much the most excited, navigated the conversation into the expected alleys. ‘The same old links are being firmed up,’ he said like he were WikiLeaks. ‘Soon after the swearing in, Mulayam and his gang went to Subrato Roy’s party, whereas poor Akhilesh had to follow protocol and make a mandatory appearance at the Governor’s tea party.’
Then, ‘did you see how the thugs pulled down the podium on which the ceremony was held?’ griped the fourth.
These are senior journalists, mind you. Just when my good cheer was beginning to fade, I snapped, ‘Can’t you see anything positive on a day when the youngest chief minister, from a family of homespun “other-backward castes”, was being sworn in as chief minister of the country’s biggest state?’
His term at a Sainik school and university from Bangalore makes him that much more in tune with the times compared with his father. The negative talk mentioned earlier travels across the metropolitan whispering galleries. The attitude integral to this talk is then dressed up as material for the media. For the hardened politician, like Mulayam, it does not matter, but for new entrants like Akhilesh, it can be disconcerting.
Even for someone like Rahul Gandhi, the ‘attitude’ is misleading. Instead of letting him reflect on why he came a cropper in Uttar Pradesh and whether there is any traction left in him, the pundits are at it again, fawning all over Rahul. ‘He pulled up the Congress vote share by 4 per cent which will be a huge advantage in 2014.’
Frankly, if Rahul is going to allow himself to be surrounded by the same self-seeking groups singing the syrupy tune, is there any doubt that he will be deluded into another debacle come 2014? Surely, he knows elementary Congress history. Except those who derive their political lineage exclusively from the Hindu Mahasabha, all other regional, caste, communal parties were once under the Congress canopy. Even the Hindu Mahasabha spawned Congressmen. Pushottam Das Tondon, for instance.
In fact, one of the terminal problems the Congress faces is just this: its avowal of secularism is no longer taken seriously, certainly not by the minorities as recent UP elections demonstrate.
Also, I wonder what Rahul makes of the mess his party is in Uttarakhand. The sequence of events need not have followed the script which suggests that the state was created to preserve the traditional Indian caste hierarchy which egalitarianism has toppled elsewhere in the country.
What else do you expect Harish Rawat, a Rajput, to conclude after having helped the party win in 2002 and again in the recent elections and yet, on both occasions is bypassed? Brahmin chief ministers are preferred. As if the ‘Savarna-Avarna’ (high caste/low caste) divide was not bad enough in UP and the rest of the country, the Congress has gone and institutionalised the rupture in the ‘Savarna’ fold too, further aggravating the atomising process.
Unlike the grand old party, Akhilesh’s outfit is not burdened with so much history. An OBC-based party with socialist pretensions, it held out a helping hand to the Muslims in distress. The love affair with the minorities remained an up and down affair while Mulayam was around. The challenge for Akhilesh is to consolidate, something he cannot do without a fresh infusion of advisers. These will help insulate him from critics mentioned at the outset, the ones who control most of the media and will not give up their hostility for visceral caste reasons.
Mulayam Singh’s experience will be of value but Akhilesh must, like Ghalib, have the courage to say: ‘Don’t quarrel with me, my father. No man of vision has ever pleased the faith of his forbears!’
Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
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