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Mainstream, VOL L No 13, March 17, 2012

Youth, Image and Counter-reaction: Who Managed Better in UP?

Tuesday 20 March 2012



There are many factors which have contributed to the spectular success of the Samajwadi Party in the UP election. In the usual analyses the role of Akhilesh Yadav is being recognised. It is true that he galvanised the party towards success but many unexplored, hidden factors that lay in the background and which he cultivated in a sustained manner helped him to lead the party to the final destination while others failed miserably.

This election helped to establish a separate niche for the youth in the State as an important and influential voting segment. The Samajwadi Party had announced in its manifesto to provide one thousand rupees stipend to each of the unemployed above the age of the thirtyfive years, provide free laptop to all the 12th pass-outs and tablet to the 10th pass-outs. The Samajwadi Party had addressed the new constituency of the youth in a very systematic and logical manner. The excessive rush in the later phase of the election in the employment exchanges in many cities was a pointer that the unemployed youth had shifted towards the Samajwadi Party.
The mention in the manifesto of free education to girls upto the graduate level, establishment of girls’ degree colleges at the development block level, start of B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) courses in the colleges, and provision of free education to the students with the family income of less than of five lakh rupees in the private higher and profes-sional education constituted a well-designed plan by the party to attract the youth. The course of B.Ed. is considered by the semi-urban and rural youth, particularly girls, as the guarantee to a government teaching job in the State. The Samaj-wadi Party was perhaps the best to understand the psyche of the youth. It appears Akhilesh Yadav during his association with the youth wing of the party learnt the problems and psyche of the young ones of the State better than his rivals.

With this background the shift towards Akhi-lesh Yadav was accelerated when two major events took place. The first was his bold stand against powerful leaders with unethical racord as D.P. Yadav whom he prevented from entering the party; this helped him to garner support and entrench himself in the minds of the general voters, and particularly the youth, Secondly, Rahul Gandhi, who continued to lay emphasis upon aggression but with no substance while speaking, failed to generate any attraction by his actions because he had no well-defined agenda for the new voters. It appears he attempted to create a placebo effect in the voters but could not succeed. He played the politics of caste and religion. The mentioning of Sam Pitroda’s caste and allowing the senior leaders to highlight the Muslim reservation issue in an extreme manner proved counterproductive among the young voters, particularly in the urban areas.

This was accentuated by unacceptable statements which left a negative impression on the young voters, first by Salman Khurshid when he denigrated the Election Commission; his statement of hanging by the Election Commission was followed by Beni Pradsad Verma when he too disrespected the Election Commission and then behaved with cryptic innocence about the statement. These statements eroded the image of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress among the youth. The youth in the State had looked initially up to him as their role-model but the way he himself brought down his own image before the youth explicitly suggested that the young constituency was never being cultivated by the Congress and that his political managers had lacked the power to assess the basic ground realities and social dynamics. He and his associates failed to under-stand that Uttar Pradesh is one of the intellec-tually advanced States where students preparing for the different competitive examinations are quite substantial in number; and large sections of the youth, particularly in the cities, are in touch with the internet-based facilities which help them to understand different aspects of the political and social dynamics of the nation and the world. Moreover the maximum support to the Anna movement from the side of the youth had come from Uttar Pradesh which in a collective form was averse to the Congress.

In fact the increased voting percentage in the State elections could be attributed to the youth who initially had their attachment to the BJP but the problem with the BJP started when it allowed Babu Singh Kushwaha to join the party; though the media and other pressures did not permit him to become an active member and contest the elections, his involvement in the party activities was quite visible. As a result the disenchantment of the youth with the BJP led to their shifting to the SP in due course of time as the polling passed from one phase to another; the tilt took place in a positive manner towards Akhilesh Yadav who by now had emerged with a clean image, having specific concerns about the young ones at the rural level where B.Ed. and girls’ education were well received and in the city where PC and tablet with unemployment stipends attracted this segment of society quite successfully. Rahul Gandhi lost on this ground. The BJP also lost its share of young voters which it could have obtained otherwise. In fact in the BJP there was no young face and the party was following only the old line by raising issues which had no attraction for the young voters. The BSP, on the other hand, was in a self-destructive mood throughout its five years in power and had no idea and plan on how to manage this potent constituency.

HERE two issues also need to be understood. The first is phenomenon of counter-reactionism. It happened when prominent Ministers of the Congress went to attack the Election Commission and the Muslim reservation was overemphasised. They failed to understand that there is growing a counter-reaction to these statements. They concentrated on a particular segment of the vote-bank, Muslims, and left the rest; in due course they appeared as followers of only one stream. All the Central Ministers from the State were fully in support of reservation as the only issue of discourse with the voters. This developed as the only line of the Congress party and counter- reaction as an undercurrent was produced in a very serious manner. Rahul Gandhi failed on this point as he could not understand that a vast segment of the society was gradually shifting to the other side. He appeared as a party to this line of statements. Akhilesh Yadav, on the other hand, behaved in this matter quite responsibly; though his party obtained a significant number of Muslim votes, he never appeared to be taking the side of only one community exclusively. The image of Akhilesh Yadav in this respect was well-balanced.

The second issue relates to the first one. It is the study of change in the image status. Rahul Gandhi appeared on the Indian political scene as a young man with high hopes and a clean image. He was accepted initially as the role-model of the Indian youth; gradually his immature statements started to weaken his hold on the young voters, but the really serious blow came when his image of a young man with a progressive mind and a new agenda came under stress due to over-dependence upon utopian political managers and his aggressive but unrealistic political self.

His image went down in the same fashion as happened with Rajiv Gandhi who, after the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, had appeared on the political scene as the most beloved young politician with a reformist mind and agenda; but he lost all this due to inept and conservative handling of the Shahbano case and Salman Rushdie’s book ban issue. His loss of image could never be arrested thereafter. The same story has been repeated in the case of Rahul Gandhi.The advisors of Rajiv Gandhi accelerated his fall and the same is the case with Rahul Gandhi.
On the other hand, Akhilesh Yadav succeeded in this respect quite comprehensively. He succee-ded in transforming the image of the party. Mulayam Singh Yadav is a supporter of the theory of sovereignty of the workers. He allowed workers to survive in the way they think it to be correct. He allocated much value to them. This led to disturbances sometimes at the political and administrative levels but the status of workers was always given prominence. He established a strong bilateral leader-worker relationship base in the party system. Akhilesh Yadav disciplined the party workers and brought them under the system of party discipline. He moved towards a position where the sovereignty of the worker was restrained and the earlier mindset of the party and its workers changed. This helped him to build his image in a positive manner. This is precisely where Rahul Gandhi failed. It is very difficult to create a new constituency of voters and build a positive image. Perhaps at this point the distinction between the two went totally in favour of Akhilesh Yadav.

The real test of Akhilesh Yadav will start when the Samajwadi Party and he initiate implemen-tation of the manifesto where execution of certain issues will become the main trigger of counter-reaction. He must know that his acumen in tackling these sensitive issues needs to be perfect. He has emerged as a leader with a novel and fresh approach to politics and he must carefully avoid reverting to the traditional path as Rahul Gandhi ventured for no reason due to the mismanagement of his political managers.

Dr Srivastava is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur. He can be contacted by e-mail at vpy1000@yahoo.

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