THE CUB EARNS HIS STRIPES
Akhilesh Yadav turns the tables in the bitter SP family feud to emerge definitively from father Mulayam’s shadow
New Year’s Day marked a watershed in Uttar Pradesh’s politics. All along the roads leading to Lucknow’s Janeshwar Mishra Park, walls were plastered with posters of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Hoardings came up overnight. The venue of the special national convention organised by the Samajwadi Party (SP) was a picture of Akhilesh’s dominance in the party. On the dais, a big chair with a table had been placed in the centre of the front row, for Akhilesh. Flanking him were loyalists of father Mulayam Singh Yadav: SP veteran Rewati Raman Singh, party general secretary Kiranmoy Nanda, Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Agarwal, among others. In the course of the event, the long-speculated power shift in the party was formalised. Akhilesh was unanimously chosen the SP’s national president and former boss Mulayam was declared the party’s patron. While Akhilesh-baiter and Mulayam’s brother Shivpal Singh was removed as the party’s president in UP, Mulayam confidant Amar Singh got the boot.
The development, and the rapid turn of events leading up to it, may have left many shocked, but insiders say the ‘coup’ was merely the climax of a game plan scripted by Akhilesh over the past two years to secure his own identity in the political landscape of UP, and India. Through 2016, as the Yadav family tug of war turned into a full-blown public spectacle and touched new lows, Akhilesh looked every bit a leader slowly turning a party-family crisis into an opportunity. By September, he had roped in political expert Steve Jordan of Harvard University to help strategise his party’s 2017 assembly election campaign. Jordan got down to business, studying the Akhilesh government’s welfare schemes and gathering constituency-level specifics by meeting SP MLAs. SP sources say Jordan is working on creating seat-specific election manifestos for Akhilesh.
Many believe that under the Akhilesh government, the SP the SP has begun to shed the legacy of the years when the party was associated with UP’s criminalised politics. To achieve this, the Yadav scion has played a leader determined to push development in UP. On December 22, the very day Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Varanasi, Akhilesh inaugurated a section of the upcoming Varuna river corridor in the city that showcased 50 metres of developed riverfront area. His government plans to develop another 10 km of the Varuna riverfront by December 2017. “As a counter to Narendra Modi’s development face, Akhilesh Yadav has inaugurated all major projects of his government on time,” says Dr Arvind Mohan, professor of economics at Lucknow University. “He is trying to draw advantage from projects like the Lucknow-Agra Expressway, Lucknow Metro, and the IT city project in Lucknow.”
Last month, Akhilesh inaugurated over a dozen projects worth over Rs 5,000 crore in Lucknow. In eastern UP, where the SP commands a strong base, his government is developing the 354-km Samajwadi