Shoma Chaudhury in Tehelka. Here
Akhilesh is not an orator. But his speech is like a calm, even-toned drizzle in the abusive maelstrom of Uttar Pradesh politics. He lists the usual stuff: Mayawati’s corruption; her infamous statue-building hubris. He promises loan waivers to farmers, free education for girls, unemployment funds, roads, hospitals and electricity. He dismisses the BJP as a party not even in the fray but reserves some time to take down the Congress. He makes some fun of Rahul Gandhi for tearing his kurta and the much-talked of list of promises and suggests he might jump off the stage next in anger. Some of his talk draws laughs and cheers. Then he delivers his winning shot: he promises free laptops to the young and says he will ensure they can be used in Hindi and Urdu — and if necessary — in English too.
This might sound like unremarkable stuff, but Akhilesh is more astute than he seems. “I have been determined to keep our campaign positive,” he says. “Everything positive. No abuse. Nothing too caste specific. Just talk development and hope. That’s why our slogan this time is ‘ummeed ki cycle’ (cycle of hope).”
“Rahul made a mistake tearing that sheet of promises on the stage,” he continues. “What are elections but a promise, a chance at hope? It remains to be seen whether different parties will deliver what they promise, but if you tear up that hope then what else is there?”
Rahul Vs Akilesh
Only Rahul stood out in all this as a fresh face: a promise of a new, inclusive, development- driven politics. No one was betting that the Congress was going to finish first or even that it would do phenomenally well electorally, but there was a distinct swell of goodwill around Rahul, and his courageous bid to revive and recast the comatose Congress in UP was the big dramatic story.Shoma Chaudhury in Tehelka. Here
Now, that story of fresh-faced hope has a virile new entrant. A challenger no one quite anticipated on this scale. Akhilesh’s optimism about a clean sweep may be a bit misplaced, but he’s undoubtedly upped the stakes for the SP and made Rahul’s own job more difficult. His older opponents’ disrepute must certainly have been part of Rahul’s long-term calculations. Suddenly now, there’s another young new leader with a clean image talking development and inclusiveness. Suddenly the youth (especially the rural youth), OBC and Muslim vote, target groups for both leaders, have not one but two new credible counters. Suddenly Rahul’s marathon lap has a sharp short-distance competitor.