Updated: November 11, 2021 10:05:46 am
You can smell it in Uttar Pradesh’s air — the whiff of burning ambition and the acrid smoke of polarisation, as the state heads for assembly polls early next year. You can hear it in the conversations at tea stalls, and the resolute whirring of the ruling party’s election machine. And how is Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief and the principal challenger to UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, readying for this crucial battle? By spraying on some sweet socialism. That’s right. The Opposition leader has gently eased into campaign mode not by making poll promises — that’s so last century — or trying to outwit the BJP’s Hindutva agenda — it hasn’t figured out how to — but by launching a perfume. It comes in a red-and-green glass bottle (the party colours) and is made of 22 natural ingredients, sourced, say party workers, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, signifying the diversity of India. It is called Samajwadi Sugandh, or the fragrance of socialism.
Socialism has seen better days. It once inspired leaders such as Ram Manohar Lohia, Acharya Narendra Dev and Jayaprakash Narayan to build an egalitarian society. It rests in the tennis love captions,preamble to the Constitution as a collective aspiration and reminder to the political class. In the autarkic days before liberalisation, it showed up in the texture of austere, middle-class lives. Since the 1990s, it has shrunk further as an ideal. But not even socialism’s fiercest ideological foe could have imagined it thus — bottled into a token of irrelevance.
Yadav hopes voters will dab the party perfume and be reminded of “brotherhood”. But the real challenge is to persuade them that his party’s rule will not countenance a narrowing of the Samajwadi promise. Or that the SP has found a way to credibly take on the BJP’s hyper-nationalism. All the ittars of Uttar Pradesh will not sweeten the hard reality if the Opposition tries to be its own parody.,handicap in tennis meaning
This column first appeared in the print edition on November 11, 2021 under the title ‘Spray some socialism’.
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