Days after BJP President Amit Shah invoked the alleged role of religion in laptop distribution by Akhilesh Yadav government in the state of UP, I was meeting Rajiv Srivastava, the managing director of HP India. It was the firm tasked with distributing 14.82 lakh laptops on a war footing, within 7 months of Yadav taking charge as the CM of Uttar Pradesh.
"They will ask your religion & caste first, if that doesn't seem favourable to them, they won't give you laptop," Shah said, stoking religion at a rally in Chauri Chaura.
It appears, this was yet another "Chunavi Jumla". The fact, says Srivastava, is that the state government and HP individually headhunted the students and handed over the laptops - against their IDs - without any discrimination of caste, creed or religion.
It was a war-room monitored by Yadav himself as HP went from college to college collecting the list of eligible students in First Year through college Principals. The mandate was to distribute a laptop to every student passing out of Class XII in a UP school and taking admission in First Year in a UP school.
I am neither a political pundit, nor a psephologist. But it is incidents such as these about Yadav's earnestness that made me dig deeper into the prevailing wisdom among the intelligentsia, political pundits and poll analysts that he's a write-off in the 2017 state elections.
I beg to differ. Yadav is neither a write-off, nor a lightweight in these elections. Instead, don't be surprised if UP votes to continue with the Akhilesh Yadav regime.
First: Those assuming that Yadav is write-off are undermining the intelligence of the electorate. UP's electorate would rather have a touch-and-feel chief minister than a faceless CM whose name will be announced only after election results are announced.
Two: His earnestness is his biggest strength. Like Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Yadav has worked assiduously, blazing a trail of 200-odd rallies across the state, the most by any politician of the state during these elections. Analysts have under-estimated the personal touch he provided during these rallies across the length and breadth of UP.
Three: A shrewd politician, Yadav is less in the mould of the rebel his father Mulayam Singh Yadav is, but more in the mould of a moderate like Atal Bihari Vajpayee who can take diverse interests along with him. This trait would be valuable when he stakes his claim to the nation's top job at some point in time.
Four: Analysts have grossly under-estimated the impact he has had on the state's janta through the laptop scheme, the unemployment allowance (Rs 1000 per month) scheme and the senior citizen farmers' pension schemes (Rs 500 per month) which have touched millions of lives across the state. His regime also provided free books up to class 8; each girl child got two sets of school uniforms free every year; children from families who earn under Rs 5 lakh per annum are provided private higher education for free; a tablet for every student passing Class X.
Five: In fighting a public battle with uncle Shivpal Yadav on the issues of corruption and mis-management, Akhilesh has captured the higher morale ground which has appealed to the youth. The Goodwill generated by this feud will be tested for the first time at ballot this year.
Six: In building the Agra-Lucknow expressway in record time, he has demonstrated that he can take on large infrastructure projects and execute them (so far the strength of Mayawati only). High cost (implied corruption) notwithstanding, the highway has been set up without a hitch at an unbelievable pace.
Lastly, 2017's election promises are equally attractive, ranging from populist to developmental: a smartphone each to 1.4 crore people; Rs 1000 monthly pension for rural women; 50 per cent fare concession for women in public transport; 24 hour power supply in rural areas; free pressure cookers for poor and hostels for working women; free Ghee and milk powder to students of poor families; new expressways; City metro projects in Agra, Kanpur, Varanasi and Meerut.
Is there a reason for the UP electorate to reject him? If there are any, they are surprisingly hard to find.