THE PRINCE IN THE CROWD: A STAR IS BORN
One has to be a lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one. A good politician is quite unthinkable as an honest burglar. So said American author an humorist Henry Miller of the BlackSpring fame once upon a time! Miller was an active member of Socialist Party in Manhattan, New York City and admired socialist Hubert Harrison., the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time. A seminal and influential thinker who encouraged the development of class consciousness among working people, positive race consciousness among Black people, secular humanism, modern thinking and intellectual independence! Words of Miller and ideas of Harrison were tearing into my flesh when I was returning from Lahore and Islamabad after some interactive sessions with Imran Khan, founder-chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Much before visiting Pakistan, while I was in London, I had decided to taste the bud of heat and dust of Indian Parliamentary elections in its own backyard and the opportunity was knocking at my door due to one magnificent contender who had offered the chance to observe the rites and rituals of World largest democracy from his own backyard.
Here I was in the Indian Capital, hurtling to the city of Taj Mahal on the way to Firozabad and Kannauj, the two Parliamentary constituencies out of 543 across the country where its chief contender Akhilesh Yadav was expecting me. Both his constituencies, Firozabad, city of glass ware and bangles and Kannauj, were going to polls on 7th of May, the very day India only Nobel Laureate in Literature Rabindra Nath Tagore was born over 100 years ago.
The journey from New Delhi to Agra is less than 300 kilometers by train. The sweltering heat of May evaporated in smoggy evening of the city of Taj Mahal when Rajeev Yadav, maternal cousin of Akhilesh Yadav, received me with open arms. A six feet tall, lean, urbane and genial countenance, Rajeev has striking resemblance with a metrosexual or ubersexual Indian youth. Yet, he is different so much as his political consciousness is vastly mature in comparison with young freaks languishing in the cool confines of Coffee Café Day of urbane hot spots across the country. Over the years, he has carved his niche in construction business, and takes pride in saying, “Someone in the family should earn to support the political ambitions of other siblings”.
It was Rajeev who picked me up from Holiday Inn in Agra and escorted to dusty stretch of Firozabad Government Higher Secondary School where a huge crowd of people, from all walks of life, had assembled to receive Akhilesh Yadav. Akhilesh alias Tipu as he is hailed in affectionate band of swarming supporters, was about to land in his choppers from Kannauj. Just about as the chopper begun its descent on the landing pad amidst rising pillars of dust-storm, excitement amongst the crowd goes wild. A vast army of teen-age supporters of Samajwadi Party (Socialist) draped in red cap and green-red flag of the party with its symbol-Bicycle emblazoned on its heart—get into their acts, pushing and shoving for the glimpse of their youth icon. Nudging and pushing turns into wild screaming when Akhilesh gets off the chopper. He is mobbed by the crowd of supporters, more than half of them apparently would not be allowed to buy a cigarette as their countenance suggest.
Firozabad is just a 45-minute drive east of the city of Taj Mahal by car. Nearly half the population profess Islam in this glassware capital of India, which tempts with its striking hues of glass bangles and bracelets. Tipu chose the constituency after Kannauj more out of empathy than proximity to his native village of Saifai (It is further 30 kilometers west of Firozabad). Hundreds of thousands of workers in 300 glass factories polish and paint the glass bangles in a wretched circumstance. There was a challenge before him inasmuch as there was flood of entreaties from the huge mass of affected people to usher them in a new era. Akhilesh threw his hat in the ring, with solemn promise of bringing revolutionary change to lives of people who ‘don’t breathe air, but glass’, as the legend goes.
In the previous Assembly elections which Samajwadi Party lost to Maywati, the party lost all the seven Assembly seats in Firozabad. Taking the plunge also allows Akhilesh to exact a stifling revenge from his father’s principal rival in political battlefield of Uttar Pradesh.
There is shyness cloaking a determination in him, but he is up for the challenge.
He is of average height, Salman Khan height, swarthy in complexion, nose shrapnel-like beak redolent of his father! Getting into brisk strides, his khadi shalwar kameez soiled by thousands of embraces, yet he smiles radiating hope and reason. His pair of black shoes are covered in thick speck of dust, and he gives damn to them. From a close quarter he would appear blushing, but it can be misleading. There is no flush or pride or ego in his demeanour as he goes about the business of entertaining his audience.
Born a Scorpio, he shares his zodiac with two great Indian Prime Ministers of yore, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and quite a galaxy of achievers, such as Pablo Picasso, Charles de Gaulle, Robert Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt, Katharine Hepburn, Marie Antoinette and Richard Burton.
His father, once upon a time, was hailed as the Rafik-ul-Mulk for his unflinching defence of Muslim human rights in the face of relentless onslaught from fanatic Hindu hardliners. When Babri Mosque was demolished in the afternoon of 6 December 1992, Mulayam Singh Yadav had tears in his eyes, uncontrollable stream of tears. The secular press hurled upon him epithet of ‘Maulana Mulayam’.
Akhilesh is an environmental engineer by training. He learnt the green craft first at University of Mysore, and then at Sydney University, Australia. Ahead of entering the ramparts of university, he romanced with football and watermelon in orchards of Etawa, Saifai and green fields of Dholpur military school. In his political innings, he still has very green thumbs. He takes pride in producing some beautiful gardens, and loves to water with love and care in his white house at Saifai.
His father gave him a nickname—Tipu. Tipu hates to be rude, he loves people. Large crowds enthralls him as he breaks into his speech with all the gentle, easy manner of his father, working up the crowd in good-natured, pleasant accent of Awadhi. He doesn’t sulk. At times, he comes forth as incredibly naïve and gullible, but he talks his ear off. Like all love, beauty and sweetness and light, he throws the crowd in raptures when he roars in the Ferozabad town square meeting, “ A cycle can be found in every home of Firozabad and Kannauj, as much as in India, but an elephant will be luxury. Only a handful of privileged can afford them. In sizzling summer, all ponds are dry, so no lotus can bloom”.
His swinging of the metaphor drives the crowd crazy. Tipu is referring to election symbol of his party, Cycle, and then to his rivals, Elepahnt of Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati and Lotus- Kamal, of Bhartiyal Janta Party.
In the course of forty days of campaign trails, Akhilesh charmed the electorate by leading a cycle rally, with his young supporters of Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha (youth brigade) leading the charge. In Firozabad, he was exasperated to find quite a few supporters cheering him on motorbike. His patience ran roughshod over their political in-correctness, as he takes them to task for breach of discipline. His cycle is not an ordinary cycle like hero ranger, but an imported Swedish one, which is quite a sight atop his Pajero when he is still ahead of hitting the roads.
As his caravan of cycle painted in red and green snakes through the lanes and bylanes of crowded bazaars of Firozabad, pints of perspiration hanging down his soggy head and heart doesn’t deter him from stopping on the way to hold a motley gathering of party managers and workers in tight embrace. The cavalcade of motor vehicles and bicycles is on its way to Saifai, his native village. The festering heat of May is enough to pickle one’s brains. Heat and dust of the campaign loses its slither and somber as Akhilesh enters the green environs of Saifai. Nowhere does the village looks like a village, as metalled road and row of concrete building belies the impression of a dusty village.
Saifai tells the tale of Samajwadi Party ascent into corridors of power over the years. The White House, a marble-stone structure with a sprawling green lawn which houses Akhilesh in his moments of recess is an architectural delight as much as it is environmental paradise. Under the horizontal foyer, a row of white plastic chairs are in place to seat the young contender for an audience with select group of party managers and a handful of journalists.
Unlike any other Indian politicians who have had a presence in Assembly or Parliament, there are no trace of scroungers and free-loaders in search of sweets and buns around Akhilesh. His poll managers and assistants are English speaking young guns, with laptop in tow to rattle out figures of every single booth out of over 3,000 going to polls. He doesn’t have stomach for gossip and tittle-tattle. With evening crimson sky fading away, cries of twittering songbirds-nightingale and cuckoo pierce the ears. Tipu enjoys the symphony as he points out he waits to hear the music in the early hours of dusk and the dawn. He has great appetite for these birds, just as he has for fluttering feathers of cranes (saras), the tallest flier who are disappearing fast from the wetlands of Saifai and adjoining regions.
Once upon a time the wetlands of Saifai and Etawa hosted almost sixty percent of the world cranes population. Alas, this tallest flying bird is an extinct species. Tipu feels this is another challenge to save the ecology and the environment in his hamlet, which has acquired fresh halo from its once non-descript existence. Farmers of the area consider cranes auspicious for their loyalty-unto-death to their partners, as the bird is still worshipped by newly-married couples. Cranes are glorious for living in pairs and never split till their death, nor do they change their partners.
Their story is quite dramatic in heart of political headquarters of India’s powerful Samajwadi Party and its heir apparent Akhilesh Yadav realizes the punch of simple, straightforward no-theatrics.
Akhilesh represents the New Democrats in the fast evolving politics of India in the New Century. Ideologically he can be a centrist and identifies more with more moderate social and cultural positions with neo-liberal fiscal values. Critics and admirers alike liken him to a perfect foil to rising Gandhi scion, Rahul Gandhi for the future battle of highest seat of the land. There are growing belly of undercurrents in UP politics, which suggest he is a contender to the throne and Congress general secretary will have to catch a tartar in him tomorrow. The only glitch is national awakening to the reality bites of Akhilesh Yadav style of politics, which can only be ensured with blanket presence of his Socialist party.
He doesn’t want to keep himself out of touch. He keeps himself abreast and in constant agitation to make sense of shift in economic policy and ideas of governance. Technology is no teaser, as he toys with the idea of wiring the party cadre. It was Akhilesh penchant for the software which put Samajwadi Party ahead of all the existing political parties in India in launching the web portals of the party in mid ‘90s though he was just a little over the age of a major. His party could beat even the BJP in putting its net act together and brighter, though the credit couldn’t go much to the party for apparent reasons.
He is his father’s son in many ways. He learnt his political craft under his shadow. However, Akhilesh swears by ideology of his idol, Ram Manohar Lohia, who enjoys exalted status in socialist folklore of India for moving the first no-confidence motion against the Nehru government, which had by then been in office for 16 years!
“My father initiated me into socialist ideals of Lohia since early days. It was my good fortune to contest my inaugural elections for Indian Parliament from Kannauj where from Ram Manohar Lohia was twice elected to Parliament”.
Tipu talks about the lethal influence Lohia has had on Indian psyche, espcially in the aftermath of Sino-India war. “He astounded everyone by calling for India to produce the bomb, after the Chinese aggression of 1962. He was anti-English, saying that the British ruled India with bullet and language (bandhook ki goli aur angrezi ki boli). High-caste, wealth, and knowledge of English are the three requisites, with anyone possessing two of these belonging to the ruling class can dream of utopian life”, beams Akhilesh, saying the definition still holds tight in modern India.
Lohia dreamt of a caste-free India, Akhilesh only feels more passion to carry the legacy forward.
Unlike Lohia, he would not want to abolish private schools. However, he would want to establish upgraded municipal (government) schools which would give equal academic opportunity to students of all castes. There is earnest desire in him to eradicate the divisions created by the caste system.
There was quite an uproarious scene in national media when election manifesto of Socialist (Samajwadi Party) was unveiled. The manifesto turned heads for comedy of errors where it was mentioned that the party wants blanket ban on use of computer and English education. It was a rude awakening to Indian middle class. Akhilesh was baffled over the printer’s devil impact. It was completely chaotic and nonsensical to band of critics. “The party is never against English education. I have studied outside, in Sydney University, know the importance of English. The party was only trying to underline that English shouldn’t become compulsory medium of instructions. Computer education is unavoidable, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of skilled labourers. I want uniform education policy for all Indians. Let all of them study the same medium, whether English or Hindi”.
The young Prince of Saifai is enamoured of The Third Way, a political position attempting to look beyond or transcend left-wing and right-wing politics, and rather advocates a mix of some left-wing and right-wing policies. Third Way represents a centrist compromise between Capitalism and Socialism or between market liberalism and democratic socialism.
Akhilesh claims, “Third Way represents a synthesis of these competing viewpoints, distinct from and superior to both of its sources, rather than simply a compromise or mixture”. The ‘Third Way’ approach has been adopted by social liberals and some social democrats in many Western liberal democracies
Like a Utopian Socialists, the one including Robert Owen, Tipu tries to find socialist factories and other structures within a capitalist society. He says Henri de Saint Simon, the first individual to coin the term socialism, was the originator of technocracy and industrial planning. The first socialists predicted a world improved by harnessing technology and combining it with better social organization, and many contemporary socialists share this belief. Early socialist thinkers tended to favor more authentic meritocracy, while many modern socialists have a more egalitarian approach.
He wants to improve the condition of every member of society, even that of the most favored. Hence, he habitually appeals to society at large, without distinction of class; nay, by preference, to the ruling class. Moreover, he wants gender equality to be supreme, with both men and women enjoying equal benefits and chance to harness their potential.
His public addresses in twang of local lingo talks about turning work into play. He envisages units of people based on a theory of passions and of their combination. Though his voice over phone sound a little silken, his silver tongues rolls in deep baritone over public address system. He speaks in husky tone and tenor. He is so glibly persuasive in crowd he can talk people into buying things they couldn’t possibly even use. He believes in laying his own foundation and building his own empire, major or minor as he didn’t solicit the support of his heavyweight father for campaigning in Kannauj and Firozabad. He walked straight with pride of building over two dozen bridges (The Bridge on the River Koli) and a state-of-the-art hospital in Kannauj where he won with over three lakh votes last time, enough to bring him glory, so has he been hassle-free in his thought of pulling off in Firozabad on his own.
He is consistent in reminding his people about his roots. More than his roots, he is very absolute in adhering to ideologies of his Socialist father and idols. He wish to imagine a society for his people where there is no money, no want, no poverty, no crime, no disease or ignorance in human society; virtually everyone works for the advancement of all humanity as well as the rest of the Federation.
In recent times, his party, Socialist Party, has earned some flak for its indiscriminate tilt towards glamour icons. Furthermore, quite a great deal of corporate influence is attributed to dilution in socialist agenda of the party. Akhilesh feels these are vagaries of changing times. Not much should be read into glamour spread, as nearly all the political outfits in India are vulnerable to the phenomena.
As a matter of fact, the original Socialist Party had its roots in the Congress Socialist Party (CSP), the socialist caucus of the Indian National Congress, which fused in 1948 with the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma (BLPI). Hector Abhayavardhana of the BLPI became General Secretary of the new party. The Socialist Party was founded not long after India’s independence when Jayprakash Narayan, Basawon Singh, Acharya Narendra Dev led the CSP out of Congress. At the time, Congress’s leader Jawaharlal Nehru was a democratic socialist whose sentiments were widely admired by the rank and file of the CSP, but they objected to his apparent unwillingness to act decisively in favour of democratic socialism or to renounce his dependence upon the conservative Hindu wing of the party represented by Sardar Vallabhai Patel or C. Rajagopalachari..
Akhilesh swears to preserve the socialist and secular character of his party intact against all odds.
He treasures his maiden rendezvous with former US President Bill Clinton. “Meetign with Clinton was quite an experience. The Congress party launched an offensive campaign in order to dissuade Bill Clinton from visiting Uttar Pradesh. So much so that the party wrote a letter urging Clinton to boycott the visit, saying Samajwadi Party members are not good people. Clinton Foundation carried out its own research and agreed to visit UP. The people in Congress party were jealous. When Clinton learnt that I am a member of Indian Parliament, he was quite amused and surprised. He emphasized socialist politics is need of the hour”.
Being a youth icon and scion of a powerful secular leader of Uttar Pradesh, which is home to nearly half the Muslim population of India, he realizes he has greater challenges on hands. As the dust over Mumbai attacks settles down, he doesn’t fall in the trap of vilifying the Muslim community. Muslim youths adore him for his gentle manner and expressive personality. With Indo-Pakistan bilateral relation in the bind, he would like to do the needful to create the positive vibes. At a time when the world is watching with bated breath the mass exodus of people in Swat, Mingora and Dir, Akhilesh is warning the situation shouldn’t resemble that of Darfur and Rawanda, as it might affect our own shores.
In his techno-savvy style, as he maintains lively link with strangers and acquaintances rocking on social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut, not to mention his E 71 Nokia and Blackberry, the Generation Next in Indian democracy is looking up to his persuasive talks and debating skills to force more reason and hope in Indian Parliament. Akhilesh may have inherited wealth and political position and levers of influence, but he has seldom rested on his family laurels. He has proven he has the ability to stack up gold pieces on his own.
He is valiant and charitable in his socio-political pursuits without being naïve about them. At end of the day, he is a family man, as he prances around with his twin son-daughter duo, born out of his better half, Dimple, whom he married out of his choice. He has soft heart, but not soft-head. He dotes on legacy and memorials of Abhrahm Lincoln, the 16th president of America, and dreams of emulating his feats for millions of downtrodden who are still doomed to live like slaves in his state, let alone rest of the country, and who are called dalits. Like Lincolin, he is determined to fight fiercely for the cause. For him, dalits living in deprivation are heart of darkness, and it is his moral duty to wipe out these heart of darkness from not only Uttar Pradesh, but from entire country. He doesn’t tolerate people of low intelligence and limited compassion. Little wonder he is doing everything to bring shine to health and education barometer in his capacity.