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Can he be a change agent for his party?
Keeping in mind the mood of the electorate, which has become increasingly clamorous for change and development, Akhilesh Yadav appears to be going about in earnest giving his party a much-needed makeover.
Issue Date - 02/02/2012
Way back in the 1980s two Young Turks set out on a mission to transform Indian politics. One of them was Ajit Singh - the America-returned son of Chaudhary Charan Singh (aka kisan neta), the former Prime Minister of India. A computer engineer who spent 17 years in the US, Ajit made Baghpat his pocket borough, travelling the length and breadth of the constituency. He went all out to court the youth and dreamt of bringing about a massive change in the state’s political scenario.

The other young man was none other than former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi. A Cambridge University alumnus, Rajiv became a beacon of hope for the educated youth of the country.

Both Ajit and Rajiv went on to achieve huge success in terms of winning thousands of followers. Most still fondly recall Rajiv while Ajit Singh, now a Cabinet minister in the UPA government, is known as one of the most opportunistic political leaders of our times.

Flash forward to the present and there is an unmistakable sense of déjà vu. Once again we see a young duo trying to change the political scenario of the state. One of them is Rajiv’s son, Rahul Gandhi, and the other one is former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son, Akhilesh Yadav. Both are ‘foreign educated’.

Recent months have seen Rahul take upon himself the challenge of resurrecting his party from the state of political wilderness in which it has been moldering since 1989. In a bid to revive his party’s challenge in UP and galvanise an otherwise moribund party apparatus in the state, Rahul has undertaken numerous stump tours and has been organising party and public meetings in different parts of the state. The Gandhi scion, in his campaign speeches, has repeatedly harped on the issues of employment and development and has talked of transforming the fortunes of the state if his party is voted to power. And though Rahul has staked his own political credibility in the polls most political observers are not very optimistic about Congress’s chances. But that has, however, not prevented senior Congress leaders such as Pramod Tewari from claiming that the Congress would be able to win majority on its own.

Though both Rahul and Akhilesh have their own challenges to face, the latter’s task seems more difficult. As the State President of the Samajwadi Party - an outfit accused of promoting casteism and sometimes even called the ‘goonda’ party. - not only does he need to change the party’s image, he also needs to bring it back to power. Sanjay Lathar, National President of Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha and the man in-charge of Akhilesh’s political campaign, says, “We have the largest number of youths and females contesting the elections. About 122 of them are highly educated first-timers and 75% have held positions in student unions. We have also created history by giving tickets to 40 women.” According to Lathar, the party was approached by about 50 candidates with muscle power. “Around 30 to 35 of them would have won the elections. Yet the party decided not to embrace them,” he added.

But despite the party’s efforts to field candidates with a clean image, quite a few with dubious antecedents have blagged party tickets. Former BSP legislator Bhagwan Sharma, better known as Guddu Pandit, who has served a prison sentence for grievous charges, has been given the SP party ticket from Debai constituency. The party candidate from Gosainganj in Faizabad district is Abhay Singh who is currently serving time in Faizabad jail for heinous charges ranging from murder and rioting to extortion and unlawful detention. Similarly, another SP candidate from Bikapur constituency, Mitrasen Yadav, has 20 criminal cases pending against him.

Dr Sanjeev Yadav, a 33-year-old assistant professor at IIT Delhi, who is the technical adviser in Akhilesh Yadav’s core team, says, “Akhilesh has taken to cleansing the entire party as a mission. Today, if we still have any leader with a criminal background in the party, it is only because we aren’t aware of the person’s antecedents.” Implausible as that may sound, party workers say that Akhilesh is sparing no efforts to refurbish the party image in line with voters’ aspirations. But, they say, the changes being wrought will take time to swim into the ken of public consciousness. Change is a long and continuous process and will not happen overnight.

To prove his point Akhilesh has brought in many new and promising faces and has by and large distributed tickets without caring if his moves upset close relatives or even senior members of the party. For instance, he vetoed inducting BSP leader Nasimuddin Siddiqui’s tainted brother. And he played an active role in keeping controversial leaders like D. P. Yadav at bay.

Those who have watched him through the grime and slime of campaigning say Akhilesh has been a tireless campaigner, always willing to go the extra mile to connect with voters. In October last year, Akhilesh cycled for about 40 km and reached the PWD guest house in Unnao. He was tired and sweating. Yet he did not stop interacting with party workers. Frank Huzoor (a London-based writer of Indian origin), who is working on a novel based on the Indian political system and was also present in that crowd, says, “I have been meeting several political leaders for the purpose. Though Akhilesh has inherited politics like several other young leaders, he is different. He is down to earth and has a direct connect with party workers.”

Party admirers and supporters say Akhilesh has introduced highly educated youngsters to the party. Among the first timers, around 122 contestants are younger than 40 years, and 60 of them are not even 30. Among them are a number of doctors and engineers who have studied abroad. Abhishek Mishra, the Samajwadi Party candidate for the Lucknow (North) Assembly seat, is just 34-year-old. He completed his PhD from Cambridge University. And before entering the electoral fray, he served as a teacher at IIM Ahmedabad. Juhi Singh, a postgraduate from the University of London, is another such example. She is the Samajwadi Party candidate from Lucknow (East) constituency. The party is also fielding a couple of sportsmen as its candidates. One of them is Jyoti Yadav, former captain of the Uttar Pradesh Ranji squad, contesting Allahabad. Another sportsman in fray is Arjuna awardee wrestler Shokinder Tomar who bagged a silver at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. He is the Samajwadi candidate from Badoth in western UP.

Clearly, Akhilesh Yadav is hoping that the combination of education and youth will work wonders for the Samajwadi Party in the upcoming Assembly elections. Will his dream come true? We will soon know!

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