ByÂ Nanditha Sankar:
In what appeared to be a case of homework well done, Thursday’s election talks on NDTV with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, by Newslaundry executive Madhu Trehan saw the former coming up with answers to most questions with comparative ease. A Facebook and Newslaundry initiative, these talks aim at bringing together the change-makers of India’s political arena who could decide the fate of the upcoming elections. Over the last few days, Facebook Talks Live has roped in Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee to interact with the audience and answer questions both from the crowd present and Facebook questions.
It was with an expectancy of India becoming a secular, socialist nation and his Government’s disillusionment with the 10 year long UPA rule, that Akhilesh Yadav kick-started the interview. Dismissing AAP as populist and BJP as communal, he felt any Third Front Party that nurtured Prime Ministerial ambitions would require the strength of its numbers to give wings to its desire. With the man in the centre-stage being Akhilesh Yadav, the question of the MuzaffarnagarÂ riots was always expected. When asked about steps taken to improve the status of riot-hit women, he pointed out to more than 300 FIRs that had been filed with the approval of the female victims. School dropouts had drastically come down with the ‘Vidyadhaan’ scheme- that aims at providing free education to girls. The CM did not miss an opportunity to sing paeans about his free distribution of laptops but when asked what he’d done to improve the infrastructure of the state he struggled and all that he could come up with was the 6-lanes in UP going 8-lane.
One of the key issues that popped up during the 1-hour long conversation was the outsourcing of Indian talent; how the Chinese had skilfully recruited Indian weavers, who couldn’t even afford a square meal, to weave Banarasi saris that are making huge profits these days. The CM himself seemed to have heard the news for the first time and steered clear of a direct answer by explaining how Varanasi was only a raw material centre for silk. On the Modi-riots issue, he chose to play a safe game (“Everyone knows what he has done”). At one point, the audience and the host were confused at his constant references to a ‘Netaji’,Â only to be clarified by the man that he addressed his father (Mulayam Signh Yadav) as Netaji, lest party people should think of him as dragging familial ties to governance. At the mention of his family members occupying 69/105 seats in the Assembly and channelling their power to their own material needs, he had nothing much to say. The same went with the issue of the ‘goondarj’ and gangwars of Uttar Pradesh except for the analogy that while there were bigger goons thriving in Delhi, it was his state that earned a tag for the same just like how people call Taj Mahal, the pride of India but choose to ignore that it was a part of UP first.
Despite some tough questions being thrown to him, Mr. Yadav kept his cool throughout. He jokingly remarked how his father, Samajwadi supremo, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who recently gathered limelight by publicly rebuking his son, had forgotten if he were more of his son than the CM. At one point, the interview brought back memories of the Rahul Gandhi-Arnab Goswami conversation, with almost every response hinting at women empowerment. Mr. Yadav felt that the Centre needed to borrow ideas from his government, especially when it came to its unwavering focus on farmers. He chose to play diplomatic on the Kashmiri students’ suspension issue by saying that all young Indians should be patriotic and use social media responsibly. On the issue of the Saifai-Bollywood controversy, he chose to redirect the issue to the post-event philanthropyÂ by Salman Khan. One key idea that was evident during the entire conversation was the Prime Ministerial hope that Mr.Yadav kept for himself or his state’s denizens.
Akhilesh Yadav may be an honest man who genuinely wishes for a secular and socialist government. But, he needs to revamp the situation in his state, which is reeling under communal tension and a plethora of other issues, before venturing out with his ambition aimed at national polity. Evading questions, diplomatically answering the careful ones and shrugging the difficult ones off, are signs of almost every other politician. But when it comes to ground-zero, it is action that counts.