Akhilesh Yadav's tweet on October 24, 2016
Forty-eight hours after Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had a public showdown with his father and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow on October 24, Yadav Junior put out his first campaign video on @SamajwadiSocial, one of seven Twitter accounts that have been opened in his name.
The 2.18 minute video begins with the image of the fluttering party flag and immediately moves into pictures of young men and women using computers, girls and boys going to school and college on cycles and using computers, alongside ubiquitous green fields and kids jumping into village water ponds…The happy-go-lucky sing-along says, ‘Cycle ko vikas ke pankh lagein hain.’ The cycle has now been attached with the wings of progress.
This is it. After the argument last month with his father’s favourite younger brother and party chief Shivpal Yadav – when Akhilesh stripped Shivpal of his party presidentship and Shivpal sacked some Akhilesh aides, but both were forced to compromise later by Mulayam Singh -- Akhilesh Yadav seems to have decided to gamble his reputation on his determination to drag Uttar Pradesh into the 21st century, albeit kicking and screaming, away from the altar of ancient caste equations.
So on the eve of the all-important state polls which take place early next year, ‘Progress’ is Akhilesh’s new byword, an old promise now receiving new affirmation. The chief minister seems to have decided that he will defy the odds, including that of parentage, and that he won’t give up without a fight.
Even if he loses to the BJP, Akhilesh Yadav says he will be known as the man who left no stone unturned, who wanted to get rid of the BIMARU tag from UP’s 200 million people – if it were an independent country, Uttar Pradesh would be the sixth largest country in the world – and one who wanted to equip its people with the ideas of the New World.
A new world based on ideas, not on caste. A new world based on information, not lineage. A new world based on knowledge and creativity and hard work and enterprise, not the ancient creed of the “mai-baap sarkar” that has been synonymous with the Samajwadi Party’s leaders these past 25 years.
Certainly, it’s an ambitious project, reminiscent not only of @narendramodi most recently, but about 30 years ago, of Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Just like Rajiv Gandhi who introduced India to the Computer Age, Akhilesh Yadav today insists that free IPads and computers and tablets to every 10th Class Pass child will help catapult her/him into a new world.
The campaign video on @SamajwadiSocial (only 7298 followers) makes that point. So does the Twitter handle Samajwadi Supporter or @Samajwadi_log (5449 followers) whose blood red header photo has the hashtag #KaamBoltaHai (Work Speaks) and whose top tweet since October 26 is about a Young Scientist Mobile App, in Hindi, retweeted from the @UPGovt account.
In keeping with the “work is worship theme,” Akhilesh tweeted on October 17 :
A third Twitter account, also devoted to young Akhilesh Yadav and called @UPSamajwad (2782 followers) has the party symbol of the cycle and the young CM on the side, meeting and greeting progressive poets and rubbing shoulders with Muslim men on Eid Milan.
Clearly, the UP chief minister realizes the importance of social media.
Another three Twitter accounts, @Samajwadivision and @akhileshyadav and @yadavakhilesh, are all so terribly and single-mindedly devoted to him that there is hardly any mention about his father and mentor, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the man who created the Samajwadi Party 25 years ago.
Mulayam, in fact, has no Twitter accounts in his own name (there are several parody accounts, though). Perhaps that is to be expected, as Mulayam belongs to another generation of politicians.
Only @SamajwadiParty_ has Mulayam’s face and the “umeed ki cycle” slogan on the header. With 3833 followers, though, that has little traction.
Interestingly, Mulayam’s younger brother, Shivpal Yadav, who grabbed the microphone from Akhilesh Yadav and humiliated him mid-sentence, at the party meeting on October 24, has a Twitter handle @shivpalsinghyad, with 11.7 K followers. Top tweets refer to his meeting with district leaders on October 23 to prepare for the party’s silver jubilee celebrations on November 5.
And then there is the official Twitter party handle @samajwadiparty, whose top tweets refer to Shivpal Yadav’s outreach to the “Lohiavaadis and the legatees of Charan Singh as well as Gandhivaadis…” No doubts here as to who still controls the party.
According to unconfirmed reports, Akhilesh and Shivpal and Mulayam have been persuaded to smoke the peace pipe. With @BJP4India straining at the leash – none other than @AmitShah has held a rally at Etawah, barely 20 km from the family home in Saifai on October 27 -- all the Yadav men know that the public falling out in the previous days is terrible news for the party. TV polls are predicting a hung assembly already, with 170-180 seats for the BJP in the lead.
Maybe that is true, at least for the moment. On October 19, @Samajwadi_log retweeted an order by the Chief Minister which talked about his “vikas to vijay” (Progress to Victory) rally on November 4th, but sources in Lucknow say that Akhilesh has been persuaded to join the silver jubilee celebrations on November 5.
According to these sources, Mulayam was so angry with his son at challenging him, his uncle Shivpal as well as Mulayam’s key confidante Amar Singh that he had wanted to remove him from the chief minister’s chair and even dissolve the Assembly. All this barely three months before the polls. But he was persuaded to see the light.
Whatever the truth, Akhilesh Yadav hasn’t forgotten his public humiliation. On October 24, he tweeted a photo on @yadavakhilesh, showing hundreds of people milling around his car. The tweet simply says, ‘Today.’
It is as if Akhilesh is seeking public vindication of his challenge to his father, and his newfound determination to not follow in Netaji’s shadow, as Mulayam is popularly known, but be his own man.
That fateful morning of October 24, Akhilesh had spoken heart-rendingly of the time when a front-page story in The Times of India referred to his father as the kind Mughal emperor, Shahjahan, while he was described as his cruel son, Aurangzeb.
According to Akhilesh, the story was planted by the MLC Ashu Malik, who was encouraged to do so by Amar Singh, his father’s friend who was trying to sow the seeds of separation between father and son.
As all hell broke loose, Mulayam publicly reprimanded his son, describing Amar Singh as his brother whom he could never abandon. On his part, Shivpal said, “Tum log to unke pairon ki dhool ke layak bhi nahi ho. (You people don’t even deserve to be the dust beneath Amar Singh’s feet).”
But on October 23, on the eve of the party meeting, Akhilesh made use of a seventh Twitter handle @SamajwadiLive (with barely 1113 followers) to make a prescient point :
Jab tak sanghathan main shakti hai, tab tak party mazboot hai. Aasha karte hain poora Samajwadi parivar jald hi ek hoga aur bahumat mein sarkar banayega
‘Till there is strength in the organization, the party will remain strong. I hope that the Samajwadi family will soon become one and win the polls with a majority.’
The next day, D-Day, Akhilesh had held his ground. His Uncle wanted to pull the chair from under his feet. But the CM said he was an obedient son and would resign if his father asked him to.
It was as if the soil of Uttar Pradesh, steeped in the epics, was replaying the ancient story of the ‘Mahabharata’ again, and again. Father Vs Son Vs Uncle Vs Outsider. The old stories were being made new again, earlier this week in Lucknow.
After the events of October 24, Akhilesh’s hand-picked editor-in-chief of @WeUttarPradesh Vedank Singh tweeted :
Ek mukhyamantri ne apni uplabdhiyan ginayeen, ek bête ne apna dard samne rakha, ek neta ne apni majbooriyan ginayeen, akhilesh achha bole
‘One chief minister recounted his achievements, one son put forward his pain, and one leader spoke of his weaknesses. Akhilesh spoke well.’
And so it goes in UP these days. The Chief Minister says he has gone back to his first love, to improve the living conditions of the people, and to find new ways of doing so. Government Twitter handles like @CMOffice (with 244 K followers) as well as @UPGovt (with 172K followers) focus on the development works that Akhilesh Yadav is involved in, while UPNews360.in gives the news in Hindi and Urdu.
For example, on October 26, the CM gave orders on how to prevent dengue. On October 28, he will meet officials from the Transport department. On October 26, also, the CM also celebrated #KanyaVidyaDhan, a scheme to promote education among girls (“betiyaan meri khoob padegi/harshit ma ka man/Prerit dono ko hi karta/kanya vidya dhan”), launched the Young Scientist Quiz mobile app and announced that the government had streamlined transmission and distribution of electricity. #ElectrifyingUP is the hashtag for the last scheme.
But the family war is not over and it is clear that the Samajwadi Party knows that the moment of truth is upon it. Shivpal Yadav is in Delhi these days, speaking to leaders from the Janata Dal (United) as well as Ajit Singh’s RLD. He says he wants to create a “mahagathbandhan,” like the one that took place in Bihar last year, in which the BJP was defeated. But on the eve of his journey to Delhi, Shivpal Yadav sacked a key aide of Akhilesh. And the CM was calling on the governor to update him on the crisis.
Meanwhile, the Congress party’s UP cell, with Raj Babbar heading it and 15.8K followers on its Twitter handle @UPCC_Official, is hardly a game-changer. Rahul Gandhi has managed to enthuse the people with his “Deoria to Delhi” rally last month, except that his “khoon ki dalali” remarks on the so-called “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control seem to have considerably dampened that enthusiasm.
As for Behenji Mayawati, she is certainly hoping the infighting in the SP First Family will reap dividends for the Bahujan Samaj Party.
#27SaalUPBehaal is @UPCC_Official’s tagline. @BSPUttarPradesh, the BSP’s official Twitter handle, only has 2176 followers. Even if the real fight will be fought on the ground and not on social media, the truth is that much, much more will be needed to keep the BJP at bay.