New image done, back to old ideas
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Last September, when the Samajwadi Party launched its UP election campaign, Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose government had been voted out in 2007 for letting loose "bullies" and "ruffians" in the state, put his son Akhilesh Yadav in the driver's seat and withdrew into the background.
Over the next four months, Akhilesh Yadav travelled extensively on his "Samajwadi Kranti Rath", which is actually an improvised LCV fitted with a cabin and some basic facilities, and addressed public meetings in more than 200 constituencies, emerging the new face of the party.
Two factors had driven Mulayam Singh Yadav to make the change. One, the rise of the Congress under a young Rahul Gandhi in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections ó it won more seats than anyone had imagined, least of all the Samajwadi Party whose humiliating terms for an electoral alliance the Congress had refused to accept.
Two, the fate of his fellow Mandalite and secularist Lalu Prasad in neighbouring Bihar. Like Mulayam, Lalu too thought he had cobbled together a winning Muslim-Yadav combination forever.
In a state where, according to latest figures, about 60 per cent of the 1.2 crore electorate is below 40, the SP badly needed someone who could relate with the young voters, rather than ideological dinosaurs who thought computers and English education were evils that needed to be banished.
Akhilesh is educated, young, fresh, free from any taint of the past, and looks like somebody who deserves a chance. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, with whom he is sometimes compared, he is a son of the soil, at ease communicating in the local dialect. He is also accessible and can be informal in his interactions. All this served very well to project a positive image of the Samajwadi Party.
Events in recent weeks have, however, shown that it has been, as best, a cosmetic change.
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