The pictures of Mayawati sharing a stage with Mulayam Singh Yadav in Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh just two days ago have gone viral- historic rivals and political giants collapsing decades of enmity in a sworn attempt to block PM Narendra Modi's re-election.
They were brought together by Mulayam Yadav's son and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who beamed for cameras and the audience.
The Digital Force of his Samajwadi Party says that the joint rally's views have broken all records of party meetings on YouTube.
But none of this clearly conveys the enormity of the message sent by Mulayam and Mayawati - of the stress on unity among at least this faction of the opposition for its to cadre and voters and rivals.
It nearly did not happen. And in that hangs the tale of canny, old fox politician Mulayam Yadav eventually persuaded by love for his son and grudging respect for Mayawati. Twenty-four years ago, Mulayam Yadav's workers attacked Mayawati at a guest house. The "maha-grudge" between the two leaders was not settled despite the Maha-Gathbandhan struck between Mayawati and Mulayam Yadav's son. And the icy vibes between Yadav Senior and Mayawati were being gleefully exploited by rivals.
BJP chief Amit Shah realised early on that the tie-up would be the biggest threat to his party's victory in 2019 and engaged "Amar Singh Uncle" and Akhikesh Yadav's other estranged uncle, Shivpal Singh Yadav, and his newbie party, to play spoiler for the Gathbandhan.
Mr Shah was reported as saying at a BJP IT cell volunteers' meeting that a video of Akhilesh Yadav slapping his father must go viral on WhatsApp. The video's authenticity was irrelevant: the only thing that mattered was propagating it.
After the first phase of voting on April 11, Akhilesh Yadav, encouraged by reports of his alliance having performed well, persuaded Yadav Senior that a big hook moment was needed for both troops and rivals. Mulayam Yadav was a reluctant convert to the alliance, often critical of it in public and conniving against it with Shivpal Yadav in private.
Mayawati, meanwhile, was all praise for her younger ally who has seemingly yielded to her on all matters and who is known to be extremely respectful to his "bua" (aunt).
Akhilesh Yadav has made it a point to say that "Mayawati's izzat is his izzat" (everyone in the Samajwadi Party must respect Mayawati) ; in every speech, he also makes it a point to mention Mayawati's giant soft spot, her nephew, Akash Anand.
This diplomacy has paid rich dividends including Mayawati happily agreeing to the joint rally with Mulayam Yadav. Analysts had said that the seven-phase voting in UP would help the BJP. In reality, it is helping the alliance as Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are trying to ensure that they hold a joint meeting in nearly all major regions.
Yadav Senior, who can wax sentimental on stage, something that his voter base adores, said in Mainpuri that the SP must respect Mayawati because "she has stood by us in bad times". She reciprocated with a favourable comparison of the Samajwadi patriarch with PM Modi. Mulayam Yadav got emotional after that and thanked her. Mayawati's response: "You have a good son, you have raised him well... he is like tiger balm". Soothing balm on the wound of the infamous June 1995 guesthouse incident where the SP tried to attack Mayawati and she locked herself up in a room.
Both Mayawati and Mulayam Yadav had sworn never to see each other's faces after that.
To quote the BJP's online supporters' favourite phrase, Akhilesh Yadav as Tiger Balm is a "Burnol moment" for his rivals.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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