LUCKNOW: As the face of the Samajwadi Party in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh election, he led the Yadavs to power. Ahead of the 2017 polls, the war among the Yadavs over who will be face of the party threatens to sweep Akhilesh Yadav out of power.
On Monday, over a slice of chocolate cake baked for his birthday by older daughter Timsy, the 43-year-old Chief Minister deftly side-stepped controversies and said: “I am like a horse with blinkers starting a race. I don’t see anything but the coming polls.”
His special campaign rath or chariot – a repurposed bus – will roll out from November 3 and, in the run-up to polls next year, cover a few thousand kilometres.
Key accessories to the campaign are a slickly-produced video and an audio, both very unlike Samajwadi Party style.
Watch Video: Sneak Peak Of New Campaign Video
The video features only Akhilesh, not his father and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav – or any other party leader.
Both clips reflect the son’s emergence from the shadows of his “gladiator” father, and focus on the party’s appeal beyond the Yadav-minority box. The video is a first in UP’s bubbling cauldron of caste and community.
The leading man is Akhilesh, who, with gentle taps on his iPad since 2012, has reshaped the computer-hating Samajwadi Party into an avatar that has gifted laptops to students.
The video features Akhilesh Yadav, his wife Dimple and three children.
The video opens with the pledge: “Every day I commit myself to the future of Uttar Pradesh”. Cut to Akhilesh at the breakfast table, with wife Dimple Yadav and their children. Family, people and progress are a constant theme. “Uttar Pradesh, India… My family” is the final message.
The little over three minutes long video is edited from hours of raw footage generated by special cameras, including drone cams, and a team of specialists stalking the young leader for days.
The drive to the Chief Minister’s office in a Mercedes SUV is a big departure from the Samajwadi past, when anything costlier than khadi was considered an electoral risk.
Inside the gleaming new office, there is a telling shot of a pensive Akhilesh looking out his office window at the old assembly building right across.
In slow-mo, he talks to students, waves at crowds, faces a battery of cameras, assesses schemes, all in a day’s work.
The video has impressive aerial shots of the new state secretariat.
He distributes relief material to Muzaffarnagar riot victims – a far subtler version of the Samajwadi’s pro-Muslim pitch.
For a party whose appeal is seen as limited to rural UP, the campaign video has an urban feel, a sign that Akhilesh, an environmental engineer, is aiming at cities.
As the video ends, the Chief Minister is interrupted by his children during a meeting. He drops everything to play cricket with them, in a sharp contrast from the acrimonious family feud that has his father and uncle ranged against him.
The audio track has a more rustic appeal. It has Mulayam Singh positioned in the pantheon of socialist greats – his ideology termed the “Ganga-Jamuna” of inspiration. There is no Bollywood audio track for this. The poll jingle is based on Bundelkhand’s home-grown epic Alha-Udal.
Alha and Udal were generals in a Bundelkhand king’s army and were born to a mother who belonged to the “Ahir” pastoral community or Yadavs.