Akhilesh Yadav may be Mulayam Singh's son, but he is a new-age Samajwadi fully aware of political realities

In Prayagpur, a village of Thakurs in Auraiya district in Uttar Pradesh, they love neither Mayawati nor Mulayam Singh Yadav. They would ideally like to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party, but since the chances of the party coming to power are bleak, they will settle for Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party this time.

“There might be lawlessness during Mulayam Singh's rule, but he helps the farmers. There is little doubt about that. During Mayawati's rule, there may be law and order and dreaded criminals may be behind the bars, but we farmers suffer,” says Inder Singh Sengar, a village elder.

“What does a farmer need? Power supply, water and manure. But in the past five years we hardly we hardly got any power supply and water. The less said about the manure the better — even government shops were selling it for double the price. Whereas Mulayam Singh was very particular that we got power and water,” says Sengar.

Precisely at this moment, the power goes off and Sengar's verandah goes dark. You can see nothing but the sky brilliantly lit up by the stars and the silhouette of the well against it. “Get the lantern,” commands Sengar. “Now no one knows when the power will come back. It could be in the next 10 minutes or in the next 10 hours.”

Soon a lantern in placed on the wooden cot on which I am sitting and nearly half-a-dozen men in Sengar's family who are forming a semi-circle in front of me pull their chairs closer. A steel tray holding several cups of tea also materialises. “But last elections you voted for Mayawati, didn't you?” I ask them.

“Yes, we did,” replies Pramod Singh, Sengar's son-in-law, “that's because the wind was blowing in her favour. Everybody was voting for her. But look what it did to us. Imagine, for a bag of manure that costs Rs. 474, we paid Rs. 920. We are all in debt because of her.”

The sentiments expressed in this village in Auariya (a district sitting on the Gangetic plain, some 100 km west of Kanpur and 60 km east of Etawah) are echoed in other rural pockets of the state as well, perhaps an indication that the Mayawati government may well have managed to alienate the farmers during the five years that were overshadowed by brazen instances of corruption, extortion, murder and rape — all involving people in power.

And as the State moves towards the final rounds of elections, the Samajwadi Party — the principal foe of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party — is making an all-out attempt to cash in on the anti-incumbency.

“This government is already on its way out. Give it one hard push and throw it out,” Akhilesh Singh Yadav, son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, urges a crowd of about 500 Muslims as the specially-designed bus which he calls Kranti Rath (chariot of revolution) stops by Khanpur Chowk in Auraiya en route from Etawah to Kannauj. The ‘chariot' has travelled 9,000 km and covered 250 Assembly seats in the past five months.

“What has Mayawati done for you? She has only used your money to build stone elephants. And have you ever heard of a chief minister who builds her own statues?” he asks the crowd, which claps.

The crowd seems to be able to relate to him. The 39-year-old Akhilesh bears a striking physical resemblance to Mulayam Singh, who is now 73; but he speaks, unlike his father, in a language that is free of political jargon and rustic accent.

Even though he stands atop the bus, he does not talk down at the audience but instead talks to them — pleading for their support and making promises that are mostly related to education. Sasti padhai — cheap education: that's his slogan. He promises Rs. 30,000 for girls who pass Class 10 and free education for them in professional colleges; and free laptops for all students who pass Class 12.

“People say we are anti-English. We are not anti anything, we are for education. When you get your free laptops, run it in Hindi, run it in Urdu if you want to; and if need be, run it in English,” Akhilesh, who heads the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Samajwadi Party, tells the cheering crowd, seeking to prove that he is not just a chip of the old block but a new-age Samajwadi, who recognises that this is the era of Facebook and that talking about free laptops makes far more political sense than promising the reconstruction of the Babri mosque.