The Man Who Became Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav Samajwadi Party Born on 1 July 1973 27 years of age at first election Formerly MP from Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh Currently Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh, From 15 March 2012
Chapter 1, Pages 12-15
A lot of pre-election energy went in configuring the right candidates in the right seat; however, Akhilesh also directly oversaw the advertisement campaign for the party. Faisal Fareed, in his Express article on the revival of the SP, writes about Akhilesh’s brief to the ad filmmaker and content writer — he wanted a positive campaign, no personal attacks. More importantly he asked the creative team to travel the state for a month, speak to people on the ground and gauge what they wanted.
Aspirations, everyday, tangible ones, became the theme of the election campaign: the aspirations of farmers, zari workers in Varanasi and school teachers alike for electricity, young girls for education, of a rickshaw puller for a rickshaw of his own, of the young in cities for jobs and higher education. The campaign was intimate, grounded, yet hopeful.
Former journalist and Bollywood lyricist Neelesh Misra was creative director of the SP ad campaign. Misra describes the first meeting with Bollywood director Arjun Sablok and Akhilesh over a long, casual lunch at his home on Vikramaditya Marg. Before the meeting, Misra had penned the campaign tagline ‘Ummeed ki Cycle’ (‘the Cycle of hope’). Akhilesh liked it instantly. the SP advertisements for 2012 (available on Youtube) turned out to be touching, thoughtfully made films, the leitmotif of a man on a cycle woven through them.
With the nominations decided, the ads out, the Kranti Rath Yatra, was the last leg of the campaign. Former Radio Jockey Naved Siddiqui travelled with Akhilesh in the ‘rath’ — really an air-conditioned bus, with a lift going up to its roof.
They would start early in the morning, the excitable Siddiqui tells me, and attend ten to twelve meetings a day. Siddiqui would open for Akhilesh. He’d tell everyone there was so much corruption in UP, he’d had to leave his radio job and join politics. There would be laughs. He’d recite buoyant couplets for the crowd, ‘Parivartan ki lehar chali hai, charo or Pradesh mein, bas asha ki kiran dikhayee deti hai Akhilesh mein’ (there’s wave of change in the air, all over Uttar Pradesh, we see a ray of hope in Akhilesh).
Akhilesh would speak, and then it was the local candidate’s turn. In his speeches, which Shoma Chaudhary of Tehelka describes as a ‘calm even-toned drizzle, in the abusive maelstrom of Uttar Pradesh politics,’ Akhilesh promised loan waivers to farmers, education to girls, unemployment allowances, hospitals, electricity and roads. Most famously, he promised laptops to students. (Whereas in 2009, the SP had campaigned against the use of ‘machines’, by 2012 the party had finally changed its tune.)
Akhilesh kept the campaign positive. ‘Rahul made a mistake tearing that sheet of promises on stage. What are elections but a promise, a chance at hope?’ he told Shoma Chaudhury presciently on the campaign trail, ‘it remains to be seen if parties will deliver what they promise, but if you tear up that hope then what else is there?’
Akhilesh had refused to hire a PR agency for his yatra, Misra tells me. However, the crowds at his meetings, wherever his bus stopped, eventually pulled the media. In another leg of the campaign, Akhilesh took out a cycle yatra from Noida, through Agra, up to Jalesar, near Firozabad. Over three days, he covered 250 kilometers, cycling 80 kilometers per day. ‘Many people joined along the way. Almost everyone in the village can afford a cycle. And the cycle is our party symbol,’ Bhadauria tells me. Without any visible ‘security men’, he cycled jostled by hundreds of party workers.
As evening comes, it’s clear to all of us waiting outside his office that Gajendra Singh isn’t coming today. Near the SP office, I share tea and chips with Abhishek Yadav and his wiry friend from Allahabad University.
They want to talk to Akhilesh about making Allahabad a model town, they tell me. Now, apart from the national university and the high court, the city is a dustbowl. They have a long list of ideas to give the CM.
If Abhishek is upset he didn’t get a nomination to fight assembly elections, he doesn’t show it. ‘Bhaiya ney mere liye kuch na kuch socha hoga (I’m sure Bhaiya has thought of something for me),’ he shrugs good-naturedly. Everyone in the party calls Akhilesh ‘bhaiya’ or ‘brother.’ sometimes, especially in colourful political slogans, they also refer to him as ‘Tipu’, his nickname at home.
This is perhaps the most important distinction between Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi — everyone in the SP seems to be on personal terms with Bhaiya, to have his number and to meet him regularly. Abhishek, a student wing member, not even a party office bearer, gives me Akhilesh’s two cell phone numbers for Akhilesh and Anand gives me his house number.
Akhilesh is accessible, like Mulayam Singh Yadav has always been. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi is a private man; they say, while he’s on tour, no one but his closest associates have access to him in the evenings and in between meetings. But people joke with Akhilesh, spend hours deliberating in the party office with him; on tour, they join the family for breakfast at times.
Journalists based in Lucknow all seem to have direct access to him. Abhishek remembers having breakfast with Bhaiya and Dimple Bhabhi when they were on tour together for Dimple’s election. Faisal recalls an SP politician had turned hopping mad at him over a piece he’d written. Worried, Faisal messaged Akhilesh at 2 a.m; Akhilesh called the next morning, telling him to relax.
Extracted with permission from Lotus-Roli Books.
About the book
Here’s a book that young India is bound to lap up. In fact, any curious mind with a pulse on the nation’s ever-evolving political landscape will warm up to this compilation that takes a sweeping look at some of India’s youngest, most talented and shrewd politicians.
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Aashti Bhartia’s articulate, earthy and no-holds-barred take on each of these young players is a refreshing experiment. Pick it up for a dekko into the minds of new India’s brightest game changers. Vote of Confidence, Aashti Bhartia, Lotus-Roli Books, R250. Available at leading bookstores.
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