June 06, 2020
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Elections 2019: The Men Behind Akhilesh Yadav's Journey In Samajwadi Party

The Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav is flanked by two veteran wellwishers as well as a talented, young team.

Elections 2019: The Men Behind Akhilesh Yadav's Journey In Samajwadi Party
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav with 65-year-old Rajendra Chaudhary who advises him to focus on the caste maths
Photographs by Naeem Ansari
Elections 2019: The Men Behind Akhilesh Yadav's Journey In Samajwadi Party

When “UP Ke Ladke” Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi failed to stop the Narendra Modi juggernaut in the 2017 assembly elections, it is 65-year-old Rajendra Chaudhary (in pic above with Akhilesh) who advised the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief to focus on the caste maths. “Idealism is good but if it doesn’t get you in a position where you can practice it, what’s the point,” Chaudhary is believed to have told the young leader. This is how the seeds of SP’s formidable alliance with its arch-rival, the Bahujan Samaj Party, were sown. The SP-BSP mahagathbandhan has now become an example for other opposition parties to emulate. Elections: The Number Game

Soft-spoken Chaudhary is modest and credits Akhilesh for the alliance. “It was completely Akhilesh’s idea. He was willing to start afresh with Behenji (Mayawati). A united front was necessary to fight the BJP,” he tells Outlook.  

Chaudhary is SP’s national spokesman and has emerged as Akhilesh’s chief political adviser. Chaudhary, an MLC, has also been close to Mulayam Singh Yadav, and worked with him for over three decades. He has served as a minister under both father and son.

If Chaudhary was responsible for Akhilesh’s game-changing decision, it is SP’s national vice president Kiranmoy Nanda, who is in charge of stitching up alliances beyond the BSP to unite the Opposition against the BJP. A former minister in West Bengal’s Left Front government, Nanda is often seen as an enigma in UP politics. Old timers in SP say that Nanda is to Akhilesh what Amar Singh was to Netaji (Mulayam). Nanda represented the young SP chief in Calcutta recently as he joined Mamata Banerjee in her sit-in to protest the CBI action against the city police commissioner. Like Chaudhary, Nanda too worked very closely with Mulayam “owing to socialist connections” but was edged out by the more aggressive fundraiser Amar Singh. Nanda left the SP in 1997, but returned after Singh was thrown out.

Akhilesh has also built his own team of young loyalists over the years. This includes former IIM-Ahmedabad professor Abhishek Mishra, 42, an expert in strategy and innovation, and Ashish Yadav, who handles Akhilesh’s media management. Mishra, who did his PhD in strategy and marketing from Cambridge University, is responsible for the SP’s image makeover—from the perceived rowdy-goonda party to a development-oriented one. Advising Akhilesh on education policies, he was responsible for getting investors to Lucknow.

While Mishra doesn’t mind the limelight, Ashish, 41, prefers to keep a low profile. A member of the larger Yadav clan, he is Akhilesh’s childhood buddy. He’s said to be a minefield of information—remembers each and every word uttered by Akhilesh or Yadav senior at any public meeting or written about them.

But Akhilesh’s ‘best’ adviser is at home­—wife Dimple. She is believed to be his sounding board and confidante on most issues. “She is intuitive and bhaiya (Akhilesh) often jokes that he ends up regretting whenever he doesn’t listen to her. He has taken her advice on many women-related policies and promised pressure cookers to poor woman voters at her insistence,” reveals a party leader.

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