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Meet Akhilesh Yadav's brains trust

By Radhika Ramaseshan
January 25, 2017 09:30 IST
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Akhilesh Yadav, the amiable crown prince, has emerged from his father's shadow and has signalled to his subjects that he is ready to become the king.

Every day when Akhilesh returns after a joust with political adversaries to his Camelot, which is Lucknow's 5, Kalidas Marg, it is time to hold court with advisors and loyalists.

A motley lot, they include his trusted bureaucrats, father Mulayam Singh Yadav's Socialist associates, an uncle, cousins and the knights from his Samajwadi 'Youth Brigade'.

Radhika Ramaseshan takes a look at some of the known and lesser known faces in Akhilesh's Round Table.
Illustrations: Dominic Xavier/

Venkat Changavalli
Home and health advisor to the Uttar Pradesh government

He has an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, and a B Tech (chemical) from NIT, Warangal.

Conceptualised and implemented the 'Dial 108' free ambulance service when chief executive officer at Hyderabad's Emergency Management and Research Institute, founded by Ramalinga Raju, the former Satyam chairman.

After the gangrape of a mother and her daughter on a highway off Bulandshahr in west UP in August 2016, Akhilesh marshalled Changavalli's advice and help. He helped start the 'Dial 100' facility to seek instant police help even in remote parts.

Changavalli, who lives in Hyderabad, said he came in touch with the chief minister through Amod Kumar, a UP bureaucrat, in 2014 when the latter heard him out at the Indian School of Business.

"I was impressed by the CM's youthful energy because until then I was used to dealing with leaders past their prime like (M) Karunanindhi and (B S) Yeddyurappa. He seemed to me as someone who was accessible, approachable, determined but flexible," recalled Changavalli.

The EMRI idea was hired by 12 state governments after it launched the free ambulance service idea in Hyderabad in 2005.

When Changavalli meets Akhilesh in Lucknow, usually twice a week, the CM receives him at the door and sees him off, a gesture his peers never observed.

Akhilesh, he says, was so taken by the 'Dial' concept that in 2016 he extended Changavalli's services by two years.

Sources in the Lucknow bureaucracy described Changavalli as one of Akhilesh's "key resource" persons in governance, valued for an ability to marry social concerns with economic exigencies.

It was Changavalli who reportedly told the chief minister to treat the market as an important link between the city and the village, and to appreciate the benefits to be had by promoting the corporate sector to market farmers' produce, instead of leaving growers to the vagaries of informal financial transactions.

Amod Kumar
Secretary to the chief minister

He has a B Tech from IIT-Kanpur and a postgraduate diploma from Japan's Institute of Developing Economies.

He became a favourite of the Samajwadi Party when in 2004, in Mulayam Singh Yadav's then government, he pioneered the use of e-governance, based on a public-private partnership.

Kumar studied two other e-governance templates, the 'Janmitra' and 'Gyandost', used limitedly by the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments. He found these unsustainable, as they were entirely government-subsidised.

He involved private players and charged them in a scheme named 'Lokvani'.

Here, people can place complaints and queries before the government through web-vendors, on payment of Rs 15 for every transaction.

The government charges the vendors a one-time licence fee.

The 'success' of Lokvani, especially in the rural areas, prompted Akhilesh to appoint Kumar as a consultant in e-governance, in addition to his role as project director of Manthan, which works on improving maternal and neo-natal health in UP with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Kumar recently became a secretary in the CM's office. He monitors Akhilesh's pet social schemes.

Shiv Nadar
Founder, Hindustan Computers Limited and chairman of an eponymous foundation that seeks to 'empower' individuals through 'transformational literacy'

Nadar's work in the information technology and education sectors impressed Akhilesh.

While the chief minister reportedly never went "out of his way" to seek industrialists, Nadar was an exception.

He was asked to create the Lucknow IT City, sprawled over 100 acres.

The still-to-fully-materialise IT hub is as close to the chief minister's heart as the Agra-Lucknow Expressway and the Lucknow Metro Rail -- to him, these projects symbolise his "mission" to wrench UP from the caste-communal matrix.

Abhishek Mishra
Minister for vocational education and skill development

Mishra, son of a former UP bureaucrat, quit his job as a professor of business policy and strategy at IIM-Ahmedabad to join Akhilesh's core team in 2012.

He is the SP's 'pro-change' face and is asked to liaise with investors.

Through the recent crises, arising from the Yadavs' internal feuds, Akhilesh sought Mishra's assessments before firming his moves.

"He seeks advice, processes the information and then decides," says Mishra, although on the father-son conflict, his take was that Akhilesh decided to be a "perfect practitioner of karma... He believes in giving things his best shot and waiting to see what happens."

Mishra was part of the group helmed by Akhilesh's chief advisor and strategist, Ramgopal Yadav, that petitioned the Election Commission to allot the party's poll symbol, the bicycle, to it.

Kiranmoy Nanda
Fisheries minister in the Left Front government as a member of the West Bengal Socialist Party, which merged with the Samajwadi Party in 1996.

Nanda is currently a Rajya Sabha member and a vice-president of the SP.

Thought of as inseparable from Mulayam, Nanda's switch over to the son's camp shocked old-timers.

The veteran explains without mincing words. "We planned the whole thing from last September. My job was to go to the districts, hold workers' meetings and evaluate the mood. Everyone I found wanted the party to be led by Akhilesh. Our workers felt Netaji (Mulayam) would not deliver the results any longer," says Nanda.

Ramgopal Yadav
Mulayam's cousin, Rajya Sabha member and Akhilesh's principal political advisor and strategist

Mulayam's faithful call him 'Shakuni'. To the larger Samajwadi family, Ramgopal is Chanakya incarnate.

For someone who called himself a reluctant politician and claimed Mulayam pushed him into contesting a local election in Etawah in 1988, Ramgopal has come a long way.

A former physics professor at Etawah's KK Post-Graduate College, Ramgopal's equations with Mulayam have depended on the degree of importance his cousin accorded Shivpal Singh Yadav and Amar Singh.

Ramgopal resented Shivpal, Mulayam's brother, and Amar, his confidant.

He never lost Akhilesh's confidence for these reasons.

When the SP won the UP election in 2012 and Mulayam anointed Akhilesh as chief minister, it was Shivpal who opposed the decision and Ramgopal who endorsed it.

Such was the unfailing trust Akhilesh reposed in his uncle that he quashed an intra-party move to implicate Ramgopal in a Noida graft scam.

Ramgopal has arranged and rearranged the pieces on the chess board.

The outcome in the election will determine if he stays on as an Akhilesh confidant or loses the faith invested in him.

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Radhika Ramaseshan
Source: source
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