Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his chief minister son Akhilesh Yadav on Tuesday jointly sounded the party’s bugle for 2014 Lok Sabha elections from this eastern Uttar Pradesh hub, ill-famed as a home and haven for several terrorists.
Evidently, the selection of Azamgarh for the poll campaign launch was prompted by the simple reason -- vote bank politics .The dominant population of Muslims and Yadavs in the region had prompted Mulayam to start the campaign for the 2012 state assembly elections too from there for the same reason.
It was therefore no surprise when Mulayam told the gathering, “The opposition goes about harping that Samajwadi Party constitutes largely of Muslims and Yadavs; but you can see people from all communities at this rally.”
Akhilesh also did not mince words in impressing upon the crowds that this was the opportunity to propel his father towards fulfilling his long-cherished aspiration to ride on to the prime minister’s chair.
“It was with the untiring effort of the SP chief that we have reached so far and that I am sitting on the chief minister’s chair today; now this is a rare opportunity for us to see that the SP president reaches the top; and that would not be possible without your support.”
He also made it a point to draw everyone attention to the fact that the party had evolved.
“There was a time when people would dismiss the SP as a rustic party of villagers, who despised English; but today we are the only ones to have built a blend of both rural and ultra modern and SP is synonymous with development.”
Even the title of the rally --“Desh Bachao; Desh Banao” -- was suitably chosen to convey that Mulayam was no longer a state satrap, but someone with the potential to make a pan-India impact with his “unparalleled” Muslim-Yadav following.
Held at the sprawling local Industrial Training Institute grounds,the rally drew huge crowds -- reflecting the ruling party’s obvious bid to throw a match to the most sworn political rival Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s two recent rallies, where the gathering was reminiscent of former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s public meetings in the seventies and early eighties.
While Mulayam’s backroom boys did manage to collect impressive crowds for the show, there was one glaringly visible difference -- the gathering looked far less enthusiastic or responsive in comparison to the swarm of people who converged in both Kanpur and in Jhansi for Modi, the prime ministerial nominee of the Bhartiya Janata Party.
Akhilesh who was stated to be the man behind organizing the show, had left no stone unturned to make it a hi-tech affair -- with nearly a dozen giant LED screens and the facility for instant upload on Facebook and You-tube.
Significantly, both father and son targeted the Congress more than SP’s other key rivals, the BJP or the Bahujan Samaj Party. Lambasting the Congress for multiple scams during its 10-year UPA rule, Akhilesh trained his guns on the BSP largely for squandering public money for “building monuments and erecting statues”, while attacking the BJP for “spreading communalism.”
Mulayam chose to dismiss Modi as a “product of media hype”.
He told the rally, “Modi is visible either on TV or in Gujarat; he does not exist anywhere else,” while in the same vein he sought to claim, “The SP has grown by leaps and bounds and has a pan India presence.”
And without spelling out his own prime ministerial ambitions in as many words, he added, “Please do remember that the time has come for the rise of the Third Front, which I see becoming a reality soon after the Lok Sabha elections.”
While Akhilesh spoke for barely 15 minutes, his father stuck on to the mike for nearly an hour. The SP supremo chose to devote a lot of time bragging about his “achievements” as the country’s defence minister in the nineties.
“There were no attacks on the country while I was defence minister,” he said, while drawing a comparison with the recent infiltrations by the neighbours. He however pointed out, “We need to realise the China is our biggest enemy, yet we are only busy targeting Pakistan all the time.”
He also dwelt broadly on farmer’s issues, claiming that no other party had better understanding of the problems and difficulties faced by farmers and the downtrodden castes.
In an obvious bid to project himself as a true messiah of farmers and the Muslims, Mulayam harped heavily on, “How farmers and Muslims deserved all credit for the nation’s development.”
He also made it a point to hail the contribution of well known Paramveer Chakra awardee the late Abdul Hamid, to whom he attributed India’s victory in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. “We must never forget that Hamid was the real hero of that war against Pakistan,” he said, while impressing upon the crowds how he acknowledged the contribution of Muslims.
Prominent among others SP leaders to speak on the occasion were Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs minister Azam Khan and Abu Azmi, who heads the party’s Maharastra unit.