Akhilesh Yadav: An aspiring vikas purush?
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Last week, the Yadav family drama had most of us hooked; the melodrama was too compelling to miss (presume the TRPs for it went through the roof, burying other competing reality shows). Despite the high-decibel drama, by the weekend the controversy had blown over and miraculously no one seemed to be worse off for the spat.
It then begs the question: What went down here and was there a method in the madness? A fair guess that Uttar Pradesh’s first family would not have gone to this extent, unless there were some gains accruing their way—especially given that elections to the state assembly are less than six months away.
One would never really know, unless of course someone genuinely breaks away from the Yadav family and outs the strategy. Looking inside from outside we can only surmise, keeping in mind that rarely do politicians move without a plan (it’s another thing that the plan may eventually blow up in their face).
In that case, the big takeaway is that chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has, through the latest drama, probably reiterated his claim to be progressive and pro-development. By standing up to the so called big baddies within (as most see it from the outside), while carefully treading the party line on “Netaji” or Mulayam Singh Yadav (as the rest of us know of him), Yadav Jr. is sending out an explicit message to the electorate: I am progressive and for development.
It is a fact that the Samajwadi Party (SP) is facing an anti-incumbency and that the two challengers, not just the Bahujan Samaj Party, are nipping at its heels. In fact, an opinion poll published recently revealed a hung verdict with the SP winning most seats, followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (the second rival) and the BSP. So clearly the SP, especially Akhilesh Yadav, needed to reset the narrative.
To his credit, the chief minister has consistently sought to project himself as pro-development of what is otherwise a state gifted with the youngest population in the country yet also one which has remained a governance nightmare. In 2012, he was the face of SP’s campaign and his central promise—targeting the young demography—was development.
But after sweeping to power the script did not go to plan. While he may have made headway in big ticket infrastructure projects, popular perception is that law and order in the state has been a casualty—exactly the point his principal political rivals the BSP and the BJP are picking on.
A dramatic intra-family feud provided the ideal distraction and left SP’s political rivals guessing. And with no one worse off by the end of it all, the takeaway is of a CM who can not only hold his own (as a champion of development and good governance) but do so seemingly on his terms.
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This is unmistakably familiar to what Nitish Kumar pulled off in Bihar; in fact, so successful has he been in repositioning himself as the “Vikas Purush” or Development Man, now his every action/inaction is being measured against the image he has created (as they say, watch what you wish for).
It is one thing to stake claim to an image, another living it. Kumar did much more and over a very long period of time. Immediately after coming to power, he first went after Lalu Prasad and his cadre—making pronounced claims against corruption in public office. In this he had the support of his then coalition partner, the BJP. In fact, he introduced development in the campaign lexicon in a state, like Uttar Pradesh, deeply divided on communal and caste lines.
Since then it has become a regular feature of election campaigns. In fact, Narendra Modi touched a chord by making development and jobs his central plank in the 16th general election; not surprising given the surge in aspirations, particularly among the youth, in the backdrop of a meltdown in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. In both instances, Kumar first and Modi later were able to weave a convincing narrative based on their track records.
With less than six months to go, Akhilesh Yadav may not have time on his side. At the same time, the maxim in politics is not what you do, but what you are seen to be doing. In that, pursuing the “Vikas Purush” mantle is a smart idea.
Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.