Akhilesh rejigs the Mulayam baton

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Jan 10 2012, 06:10am hrs
IT is by now well-established that the Samajwadi Party has affected its very own generational shift, well in time for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Instead of

Netaji Mulayam Singh Yadav, his son Akhilesh Yadav is the face of the partys campaign through his Kranti (revolution) Yatra.

That Akhilesh is more than just a face for his party became evident last week when he blocked the

entry of Yadav strongman DP Yadav into the Samajwadi Party. Yadav is the father of Vikas Yadav who had been convicted in the Nitish Katara murder case. Akhilesh not only publicly rebuffed DP Yadavs entry but also got veteran Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh sacked from the party spokespersons position after the latter gave statements in favour of DP Yadav.

Akhileshs assertiveness is being seen as more than just the spreading of his political wings. A contrast is being drawn between his fathers old style socialist, OBC politics and Akhilesh Yadavs more tech-savvy and

modern approach. Akhileshs own life

certainly lends itself to this contrast rather well. An engineer who studied in Mysore (and not in Australia, as is often said), Akhilesh rebelled early against certain orthodoxies.

He married childhood sweetheart Dimple Rawat much against the wishes of his father who may not have wished for a Thakur bride. Hailing from a cosmopolitan Army background, she may not have been considered a good fit in the largely feudal patriarchal set-up of rural Uttar Pradesh.

Though he remained a backbencher in Parliament since he was first elected in 2000, Akhilesh was also quietly disapproving of his fathers proximity with former SP general secretary Amar Singh, and teamed up with his uncles Shivpal Yadav and Ram Gopal Yadav to finally evict Singh from the party. He viewed Singh, his aides say, as just the kind of sleazy element that should be kept away from the party.

Akhilesh is therefore now fully in command. Could he be the reason for the new sensibility in the Samajwadi Party Its concentrated on wooing the urban voter via Facebook pages, tweets and websites, plus a refusal to accommodate bahubalis of yore in this era of revulsion against the ugly politician.

While leadership is a very personal trait, it is also a response to changed and changing realities. A new leadership in the Samajwadi Party is a response to the changing constituency of the party. While the primary vote bank of the party still accrues from the MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination, there has been a generational change in these voters as well. In Uttar Pradesh this time, there are around 1.4 crore new registered voters, out of which 53 lakh fall between the ages of 18 and 21.

Amongst a generation that has seen the post-Mandal expansion in education and job opportunities as far as OBCs are concerned, the excesses of community bahubaliseven those characterised as Robin Hoodsdo not inspire much support. There are enough clean-cut OBC politicians, including a slew of Akhileshs cousins, to make the old ones redundant. This aspirational generation is reflected in growing OBC figures in higher education and in representation in higher levels of government.

The sense of community has also mutateddue to urbanisation and access to different social circlesfrom an organic link to caste groups to one where caste affiliation can be a medium of upward mobility and for demanding entitlements, but where the message of caste solidarity in other matters is muted.

Thus in Akhilesh Yadavs campaigns one can see the desire to reach out to a generation of Mandal beneficiaries, but at the same time this upward mobility is still layered on caste affiliation. Yadav talks of Mayawatis corruption, refutes vehemently that his party is against English (despite the fact that his father regularly exhorts English-speaking ministers to switch to Hindi) and responds to Facebook messages. All this he does surrounded by the symbols of Samajwad, the Kranti rath and the red-coloured Gandhi topi.

After the Mandal-aided rise of Akhileshs father and after the corporate-filmi era of the party in the Age of Amar, the Samajwadi Party seems to be ready for its third take, banking on its young leader to win the hearts of a new generation.

nistula.hebbar@expressindia.com