Friday, October 18, 2013

Winds of Change Blow Away Akhilesh’s Cycle of Hope

By John Cheeran
Is Akhilesh Yadav more than his father’s son? There is no doubt that Akhilesh’s time has come with Muzaffarnagar riots challenging his authority as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. In the last 18 months, Akhilesh has turned BSP leader Mayawati into a saint, with the state witnessing more than 100 riots. The cycle of hope has been broken. 
Yet, not many can see the man behind Uttar Pradesh’s youngest chief minister, who now at 40, struggles to break free from the circle of his famous daddy and uncles.  
Yes, Akhilesh deserves our attention. Sunita Aron’s biography of the man in the hot seat, Akhilesh Yadav: Winds of Change (published by Tranquebar, pages 561), could not have come at a better time. Everyone is talking about UP and how Akhilesh has managed to alienate both the Hindu and Muslim communities. Muzaffarnagar riots have rocked political equations in Uttar Pradesh, reviving BJP’s drooping electoral fortunes in the state.
Winds of Change, however, fails to pull Akhilesh out of the shadow of India’s forever prime minister-in-waiting, netaji Mulayam Singh Yadav. 
Aron’s rambling account has a lot about the shifting political scape in UP but very little about Akhilesh. Despite being a witness to political vicissitudes in UP, the author has a hazy focus, and ends up with an amateurish effort. The book is too long (560 pages) and the tone is reverential. Poor writing mars this biography, factual errors add to readers’ woes. Relying on too many secondary sources and library clippings make this a dull reading. May be a bit of editing could have rescued this book -- it is amazing how the biographer can translate ‘shramdaan’ as land donation.
Aron uses colourful language as regional reporting often tends to be: "The tussle for power got increasingly vulgar and for the first time in history the UP assembly's carpets were soaked in blood even as legislators indulged in fisticuffs and routinely kidnapped and threatened each other in public.” 
Sample this: “It was evening time and a riot of emotions was visible on the grounds. Evening walkers ambled briskly despite a steady traffic of commuters.”
For all that, Tranquebar and Aron, I guess, got the name of the book wrong. It could have been easily titled Mulayam Singh Yadav: Winds of Change. This is a Mulayam biography in disguise as much as the current Uttar Pradesh administration is.       
Samajwadi Party, founded in 1992 by a shifty Mulayam, is now trying to change its colours with Akhilesh at helm. With free laptops but without English keyboards, it has been a difficult transition for Sydney and south India (Mysore) educated Akhilesh. The Yadav scion turned down an alliance from another powerful Yadav clan, to marry outside of his caste. Akhilesh has shades of strong will but the biography rarely tries to figure out the man.       
Although Samajwadi Party has its own Mahatma in Ram Manohar Lohia, whose ideology has been observed only in its violations, Mulayam has turned the party into a Yadav dynasty. The ‘modern’ Akhilesh has no qualms about it. He justifies the dynasty by saying people like him had ‘struggled’ to become politicians.
There is no doubt that Akhilesh has a tough task. He is ruling a state where students want their chief minister to allow them to copy during examinations. So much for aspirational values and free laptops. 
Much of the political reporting in India does not go beyond the inane. Sample this: “His (Vinod Barthwal, a SP leader) words had proved prophetic as Akhilesh's political career did witness a meteoric rise after his marriage to Dimple and he entered the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2000 after winning from Kannauj and eventually became the youngest chief minister of the largest state in 2012.” So what has marriage got to do with Akhilesh becoming an MP? Is it because the marriage came before the elections? Akhilesh married Dimple in 1999. And the biographer sees significance for an event that took place 13 years later and describes it as “meteoric rise.” 
Aron, however, gets it right, almost, when she writes: “Despite a growth story which remains unparalleled in any other village of Uttar Pradesh, the aggression amongst the locals of Saifai could be just a slice of what ails the Samajwadi Party across the state. It took a rustic Mulayam to rein in such elements in the past but for Akhilesh who is not only known for his politeness but is also hemmed in by lumpen elements within the party, it could prove to be a long overhaul.” 
May be it is a long haul. May be this is what we deserve when you write about a political party and a father-son duo who take pride in ‘English Hatao’ campaigns.

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