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The man who will take on Vajpayee

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow | April 15, 2004 16:49 IST

With noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani, whose candidature from Lucknow against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was supported by the Congress, walking out of the race for 'personal reasons', the party on Thursday roped in its Rajya Sabha member Akhilesh Das to take on the prime minister.

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Akhilesh Das vs Vajpayee

Akhilesh's nomination suits everyone just fine. Vajpayee, somewhat upset over 'old friend' Jethmalani contesting against him, is happy that the new rival is a relative light weight. The Congress is happy that that it is not letting PM have it easy -- the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party too have put up candidates in Lucknow. Akhilesh Das is happy to find himself in a high-profile contest. He has always enjoyed being in the thick of things.
Until a decade back Akhilesh was known only as a skillful badminton player in Lucknow. His only political identity then was his father -- former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Banarasi Das.
The senior Das headed the UP government briefly during the Janata Party's rule in 1977. He was among a clutch of leaders who had rebelled against the then prime minister Indira Gandhi to join the Janata Party.

Akhilesh made his political debut in early 90s and learnt the ropes with Congress leader Pramod Tiwari. 

Later, he established links with then UP governor, Moti Lal Vora, who pushed his case for Lucknow mayorship.

Knowing it was impossible to make it on the Congress party's strength alone, Akhilesh sought, and won , the blessings of Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party had the numbers that mattered in the Lucknow Municipal Corporation.
Akhilesh became Lucknow's youngest mayor 1992.

Making no bones about his indebtedness to Mulayam, he rode to the SP leader's residence in a procession immediately after his election. The Congress was then involved in a deadly political feud with Mulayam.

Unlike his idealist father, who led a simple life, Akhilesh believed in getting ahead. He soon got into a controversy over "selling off" every inch of available land under the municipal corporation's jurisdiction. Even some footpaths were not spared in the name of enriching a poor municipal corporation.

His successor, Dr S C Rai, made noises about 'large-scale pilferage' in the municipal corporation, but failed to come out with anything substantial against Akhilesh.

Over the years, Akhilesh has also established himself as an educationist. He is the founder of several educational institutions -- an engineering college, dental colleges, a management institute and now even a medical college.

These institutions are all located near Delhi and in Lucknow, where he has acquired  a vast expanse of land which he has named 'Dr Akhilesh Das Nagar'.

He also has the franchise for publishing the Lucknow edition of a national English daily.

Having acquired both status and stature, it was not difficult for Akhilesh to enter Rajya Sabha as a Congress nominee. That he managed to win a second term despite facing a strong contender in high-profile Congressman Salman Khursheed, speaks volumes of his growing clout.

Akhilesh Das is now the Congress party's Man Friday in Lucknow. If Jethmalani's had not withdrawn from the contest, Akhilesh would have managed his campaign.

If Akhilesh loses this election, as he is widely expected to, there is always the long Rajya Sabha term left to complete. And that with the tag of having fought against Vajpayee in an election.


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