The Akhilesh Yadav show
The Sunday Guardian|January 23, 2022
With the first phase a fortnight away, the Akhilesh Yadav campaign is on a roll, ready to meet the Yogi-Modijuggernaut with its own brand of development-cum-Mandal politics wrapped in some spicy contemporary rhetoric.
PRIYA SAHGAL

The Uttar Pradesh elections are fast turning into an Akhilesh Yadav show. His daily press conferences at 1 pm set the poll narrative, as he highlights a new issue each day, or welcomes a new defector from the BJP. The Bicycle Chief's trademark deadpan delivery as he scores a political point over his opponent is given away when he breaks into a mischievous smile immediately afterwards. Ensuring he has a captive audience, Akhilesh often breaks the presser to play his latest campaign song and then resumes the questions. There is some banter, there is also some calling out-if the questions seem a tad pro establishment. When a mainstream channel known for its pro BJP leanings published a poll survey showing the opposition in a poor light, Akhilesh quipped saying, "You should multiply the seats allotted by this channel to Asaduddin Owaisi by two to get the real estimate"; and when told about the estimate for SP he said, “multiply that number by three”! When the BJP poached his sister-in-law Aparna Yadav, he shrugged it off with a “she is propagating the Samajwadi Party culture in the BJP”. He has brought back fun into the very polarised and somewhat vicious politics of the Hindi heartland. There is also a confidence and a certain swag that was missing during the 2017 polls.

Six months ago, most had predicted that the BJP would sweep the elections. There was a buzz in Lucknow that the SP chief hadn't even stepped out of his office; the BJP rumour mill claimed he was too busy playing video games. The SP chief was indeed busy, but instead of playing games, he was doing his homework, putting the nuts and bolts of his campaign in place. He had spent the last five years analysing the reasons for his loss in 2012 and shortlisted three main issues. The first was the ill-fated alliance with the Congress, where he gave the national party as many as 105 seats. The Congress could win only seven and ended up dragging the SP total down to 47 as well. The second of course was the feud within his family as he wrested control of his party from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav. The third was his campaign itself. “He spent too much time talking about development and jobs when the other side swayed the electorate with their talk of shamshan ghats and kabarstans" said a party insider. Akhilesh then realised that while development was essential, you also need an emotional issue to sway the voters. That emotional glue was missing from his campaign.

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