UP polls: Akhilesh Yadav vs Rahul Gandhi

UP polls: Akhilesh Yadav vs Rahul Gandhi

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Lucknow:  Today, at least one son rises in Uttar Pradesh. At the very top of a wide political spectrum is the battle of two young MPs for whom these UP elections will be career-defining. Will 39-year-old Akhilesh Yadav wear the winner's smile after election results have been counted? Or will 41-year-old Rahul Gandhi spoil his party?

Akhilesh Yadav is heir apparent to the Samajwadi Party throne. Rahul Gandhi is the crown prince of the Congress. There are some broad similarities. Both are members of Parliament from UP. Rahul Gandhi is a two-time MP, having won in 2004 and then 2009 from his father's former seat Amethi. Akhilesh Yadav first became an MP in 2000, when he contested a by-election in Kannauj - a seat vacated by his father. He has been the Kannauj MP since.

Both are successors to important political dynasties. Both have painstakingly scripted this year's UP campaign for their respective parties. In both campaigns, the imprint of the scriptwriter's personality is unmistakable. And both have underplayed personal ambition. Akhilesh Yadav's defining words: "Who will become CM can be decided later". And Rahul Gandhi said, "I am not obsessed with power."

"Come what may, Mulayam Singh Yadav will be CM. If we get a majority, then it will be mandate for the Samajwadi Party, and not for me alone," he told NDTV today. Akhilesh is busy cooling his heels, "destressing with family and kids before the big day".

The differences are more stark. For Rahul Gandhi, UP is the crucial stepping stone to the larger national role he has always been slotted for. Akhilesh Yadav's hunting ground as yet is UP, though father Mulayam Singh Yadav has never been short of ambition at the national level. Rahul's appeal and interaction is sophisticated. Akhilesh is more direct. Electioneering in UP to this son of a three-time CM has for years meant going from door to door on a bicycle, his party's symbol. Akhilesh's engagement with the people is direct, personal and earthy.

In the run-up to the elections, Akhilesh has crisscrossed the entire state with a 10,000-km rath yatra and has held more than 800 rallies over the last six months. Those big numbers best Rahul Gandhi's not unimpressive effort to address 211 public rallies in 48 days.

Akhilesh's election campaign was supported and nurtured by the Samajwadi Party cadre and candidates, whom he selected and then led with an iron hand. Rahul Gandhi's was more a one-man show - his party organization in the state is much weaker and had to battle rebellion and infighting - but a phalanx of high-profile Central leaders were at hand for ready back-up support. 

At rally after rally each tore into the other; Rahul even tore up paper on stage in a dramatic attack that had Akhilesh snigger, "Rahul seems angry. Earlier he used to get angry by folding hands, then he got angry by tearing up paper. Who knows, next time he might jump off the stage in anger."

Rahul Gandhi has an M.Phil degree in Development Economics from Trinity College at England's Cambridge University. Akhilesh Yadav is an engineer from the University of Mysore, but also has a Masters in Environmental Engineering from Sydney University, Australia. Armed with those degrees and a new-age outlook, the two leaders have brought what is seen as a sense of modernity to the age-old mores and machinations that have defined UP politics over the years.

Unless, the play of numbers forces the two young men into an alliance to keep out Mayawati, one of them will be the young face of UP by the end of day on Tuesday.

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