Akhilesh Yadav is affable, but callow and sadly out of his depth in the murky world of Uttar Pradesh politics
A leading reporter of Uttar Pradesh politics over the past three decades, Sunita Aron sets out to present a “racy chronicle of one of India’s most promising politicians”. In her enthusiasm, however, to cram into her narrative every bit of information gathered over the years and to recount tales of each of her innumerable contacts, the reader feels rather like racing in treacle. To churn out more than 500 pages on the largely-undistinguished Akhilesh Yadav barely a year into his stint as Chief Minister, is patently an effort to cash in on the presumed interest in the politics of Uttar Pradesh in the lead up to the 2014 general election.
Aron’s journalistic experience has brought her to believe that politics is all about ‘management’ and she acknowledges having learnt this at the hands of the redoubtable Mulayam Singh Yadav. It is no surprise that her book is more about the captivating Mulayam than it is about his son.
Doyen of Machiavellian machination, arch manipulator of people, master of double-speak, Mulayam Singh Yadav has shaped the course of politics in Uttar Pradesh since the 1980s. Through astute and cynical exploitation of communal and caste sentiment, disdain for traditional political mores and conventions, crafty use of the spectre of violence to get his way, Mulayam Singh created the mould for Uttar Pradesh’s political development during a crucial transitional phase.
Winds of Change traces the journey of Mulayam Singh Yadav in painstaking detail culminating in the partial fulfilment of his dream of “Vijay 2012, Lakshya 2014”, denoting victory for Akhilesh in Uttar Pradesh followed by his own crowning in Delhi. Aron competently weaves together the threads of Mulayam’s story, but at the end of the book the reader’s perception of Akhilesh remains as hazy as before. Indeed, the bafflement is compounded at how the street-fighter father could spawn a son so utterly different.
To his credit, Mulayam was not a dynast who groomed Akhilesh from birth to be his political heir. On the contrary, he was a largely disengaged father, preoccupied with his political work while his son Tipu, as he was affectionately called, was brought up by the extended Yadav clan in Saifai village. As a hard-core follower of Lohia, Mulayam launched himself into the backward class movement, while anti-Congressism and opposition to western cultural imperialism came to be his leitmotif. From being the youngest MLA in Uttar Pradesh in 1967, he sounded the death knell of Congress-style politics when he rose to Chief Ministership in December 1989.
The story of Mulayam Singh’s ascent to power, the tumultuous events centering on Masjid and Mandal, his emergence as the pre-eminent champion of minorities and backwards, the influx of criminal hordes into Uttar Pradesh politics and his marked bias for the rule of the mob over the rule of law, his diabolical manoeuvring to return for a third stint to 5 Kalidas Marg (the CM’s residence) in 2003 and his tryst with glamour and glitterati in the oily company of Amar Singh, is the stuff of a sleazy political thriller.
Curiously, Akhilesh remained singularly disconnected — even seemingly disinterested — from the political hurly-burly around him. His father made little or no effort to mould the young mind or to inculcate any ideological underpinnings. If at all there was an attempt at building his political awareness it was left to his uncles, while his father remained the distant and unapproachable ‘Netaji’. The only letter known to have been written by Mulayam to his school-going son was limited to the terse message: “Study hard. It will help you.”
Failing to obtain admission to the prestigious Scindia School in Gwalior, Akhilesh joined the Dholpur Military School from where he graduated with a notably average record. If he distinguished himself at all — apart from showing some aptitude at cricket — it was for his simplicity, decency and industriousness. He kept his identity under wraps both at school and at the engineering college in Mysore from where he obtained his bachelor’s degree: even close acquaintances were incredulous that Akhilesh Yadav the politician was the unpretentious boy they had known. “We were a bunch of happy go lucky kids, enjoying life,” he says. “We kept away from controversies that could bring a bad name to us, our college and family.”
There is some doubt over whether Akhilesh completed his master’s degree in environmental engineering from Sydney, although he apparently enjoyed the course.
Surrounding himself with Indian friends, Indian films and Bollywood music, his overseas exposure was as unremarkable as his childhood. His friends do recall, however, his urge “to do something new”, which seemed to hint at a deeper aspect of the blithe young man. Another rare glimpse that Aron provides of Akhilesh’s character is that “he cannot bear to lose” — even at children’s games — and that his movie heroes are the machismo-dripping Rocky and Rambo!
Akhilesh was on his honeymoon when he was summarily launched on his political career by his father’s diktat to contest the Kannauj Lok Sabha seat that he had vacated. With unquestioning diligence and characteristic humility he threw himself into party work, strengthening the youth wing and instigating a series of agitations against Mayawati’s government that brought him to prominence. In a surprise move in 2009, discarding Lohiaite convictions that he had held against propagating family rule and ignoring more seasoned claimants, Mulayam nominated him president of the party. The story from there is well known. Hemmed in by domineering uncles and an interfering father, a truculent cabinet that was forced on him and unruly workers who are a law unto themselves, Akhilesh as chief minister continues to be affable and callow — and sadly out of his depth in the murky world of Uttar Pradesh politics.
The book would benefit from extensive editing, but nonetheless provides revealing insights into the politics of Uttar Pradesh and, particularly, the motivations of the main players. Akhilesh Yadav, alas, remains a hapless enigma whose capacity to catch the winds of change in his sails seems sorely in doubt — a deeply worrying prospect for the country’s most politically-critical state.
(Govindan Nair is a retired civil servant now based in Chennai)