Missed Opportunity

The newly formed Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh holds new promises for the people of the country’s politically most significant state. In Akhilesh Yadav, the state has its youngest Chief Minister who so far has appeared promising. Mulayam Singh Yadav, the grand old man from Indian politics was successful in installing his son on the chair of the chief minister. The real performance of the new man on the job is yet to be evaluated as it has not been more than a month that he took the reigns of the state in his hands. Some actions like asking for a feasibility report about the introduction of metro rail tracks in some of the cities like Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi, efficient use of the social media for governance and a few other key decisions in favor of the hitherto marginalized groups sounds like a good early start.

In this post however, I wish to point to the opportunity of a lifetime that the Samajwadi party missed when it overlooked the candidature of the prominent Muslim leader of the state Mr. Azam Khan for the coveted post. It is clear from Mulayam Singh’s decision (which was covered under the garb of the decision taken at the meeting of the MLAs) that he failed in not getting rid of the compulsions of dynastic politics and nepotism- an accusation whose most ancient receiver has been the ruling party of the country-the Indian National Congress.

The current composition of the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly is striking on many grounds. It is for the first time for instance that the assembly has welcomed the largest number of Muslim members. Out of the 63 Muslim MLAs 40 belong to the Samajwadi party alone. 14 Muslims from the Bahujan Samaj Party, three from the Congress, three from the relatively new political player- the Peace Party, two from the Quaumi Ekta Dal (Mukhtar Ansari being one of them) and another independent have made it to the assembly this time. Coming to the case of the Muslim legislators from the SP alone, it is interesting to see that they have flown in to Lucknow from all corners of the state. The previous assembly had 56 Muslim MLAs and the lowest ever number has been 25 in 1993 when the Ram Janbhoomi Mandir agitation was at its peak.A report in one of the national dailies says:

“The results in the 122 constituencies in the state in which Muslims play a crucial to decisive role show that half (61) went to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party. The Muslim population in these 122 seats ranges from 20% to 50%”.

If politics in India is about effective manipulation of the religious and the caste equations in one’s favor, it is also at times about making the right moves, however melodramatic they might seem to be. A decision taken by Sonia Gandhi to not become the Prime Minister of India after the win of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance in 2004 has already gone down in Indian political history as a memorable and a defining moment. That remarkable decision not only established her as the tallest political leader but also gave a fitting reply to the adversaries who had entered into a phase of delirious clamor about her foreign origin. That to my mind was a political masterstroke that shot so many birds with the same stone. It was also a decision that shaped and continues to shape the future of the Congress in the country.

A very similar opportunity knocked on the doors of Mulayam Singh Yadav after the results of the assembly elections were announced on the 6th of March this year. It took the party about a week to finalize and make a formal announcement about who the next Chief Minister of the state would be. This delay was somewhere a signal of the strength of the candidature of Azam Khan. Hectic efforts at convincing him to accept the post of the Speaker of the assembly were reported. In choosing his son for taking oath as the CM, Mulayam Singh definitely missed an opportunity of winning over the hearts of the Muslim voters residing not just in the state but throughout the nation. It was a decision which if taken would have redefined Indian politics. I can only guess about the possible fears about Akhilesh’s political future which might have forced Mulayam Singh to settle with his name. At the outset, his decision only hints at the central role that dynasty has come to play in Indian politics. I don’t wish to write off Akhilesh’s splendid performance as the star campaigner. This is only to express a sense of bewilderment about the fact that the political acumen of someone as experienced as Mulayam Singh Yadav was not able to make the most of this ripe opportunity.

A respectable leader who is widely hailed as “Maulana Mulayam” would have succeeded in putting a range of Muslim identity politics in the region to a pause and such a decision would have ensured the support of all and sundry for his larger political programmes in the future. In the larger public domain too this ‘sacrifice’ on his part would definitely have sent a very positive signal. The prevailing attitude against nepotism and dynastic politics would certainly have stood addressed.After all democracy is so much about impressions and impression management.

A decision however has already been taken and the state has entered a new phase under the young Chief Minister. I am hopeful that Akhilesh will rise to the challenges that his new position will carry with it. Wishing him all the best!