MALIHABAD: “This alliance (Samajwadi-Congress) is not just for Uttar Pradesh today in 2017, it is for the nation in 2019 (Lok Sabha polls),” said Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in a quick interview to The Citizen after an election meeting in the Mango heartland of the state.

This was a first, as at his joint press conference with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the young CM had evaded a specific question on whether the alliance would extend to the general elections. Today he was firm, and categorical that the alliance was not just for the state but for the Lok Sabha as well.

Akhilesh Yadav, campaigning now for constituencies in central and eastern UP was on a day long tour and arrived in his helicopter to a cheering crowd at Malihabad at about 5pm. His voice was slightly hoarse, but there was little sign of fatigue as he climbed up to the stage, alert to the point where he immediately saw The Citizen team in a corner on the side of the dais and waved out. And after the speech responded to gestures for an interview positively and asked the security to guide us to the helipad.

The interview had the Chief Minister responding with what is perceived as characteristic honesty, stopping every now and again as the crowd that had surrounded the helipad from a distance of course, kept bursting into cheers to attract his attention. He would stop wave to them, return to the interview and when asked if he had a good working relationship with Rahul Gandhi that would survive the two years to 2019 he said matter of factly, “I think so, it is a working relationship, and I think we work well together.”

There was no hyperbole, no effusive descriptions of a great chemistry, just a quiet affirmation that the alliance would not just last but lead into the 2019 elections. Akhilesh Yadav said that he had faced some criticism about being too generous with the Congress in seat sharing saying, “and I tell them (the critics) that a relationship cannot last unless it is based on generosity.”

It is Akhilesh Yadav all the way with not even a shadow of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav falling across his path. The slogans before his helicopter arrived were all Jai jai Akhilesh Yadav to the point when some SP workers responded to a slogan “jiska jalwa qayam hai” with “uska naam Mulayam hai” the leader shouting the slogan corrected them to point out that the response to the first slogan should be “uska baap Mulayam hai.” The baton has passed irretrievably to the son.

But when asked about Mulayam Singh, Akhilesh Yadav said he was the leader and insisted that his father was not angry at all. “This party is Netaji’s party, and if I become the Chief Minister again don’t you think he will be the happiest of all?” he asked with a big smile. While not willing to predict the outcome of the polls he did say that he felt a bigger surge of support than he had in the last Assembly polls.

As for the Prime Minister, “look at what all he is talking” Akhilesh Yadav said referring to the low bards and insults the PM has been hurling at his political rivals in UP.Taking up one point the CM said, “he talks of history between the Congress and the Samajwadi, but for me now the new relationship is since I came together with Rahul. What happened or did not happen before is history, we are talking of the present.” As he said, no partnership can be forged if one goes into history.

The CM who always takes care to speak in Hindi, even when asked a question in English, surprised us when he started speaking in English fluently and with full command. It was a natural response to a question, and then we all as easily switched back to Hindi.

He wondered why Mayawati had already started speaking of sitting in the Opposition when only two phases of the six in UP were just about over. In his campaign speech he had the highly responsive audience full of young people roaring with laughter with his references to “bua” and how she (Mayawati)will now celebrate Raksha Bandhan by tying the rakhi on the BJP. This is a rumour that is dogging the BSP, being further fuelled by the SP and the Congress.

Akhilesh Yadav was openly critical of the BJP for dividing people. To a question on Muzaffarnagar he said, the people were all with him. But they were not so earlier after the violence? That was because of the BJP and its propaganda, now they have understood and are fully supportive eof me, he said.

His big plus point is his ability to connect with the people. The youth were beside themselves with excitement, with many having climbed trees in the grounds where the meeting was held, cheering him on, waving, bursting into slogans. Akhilesh Yadav, smiled, waved back, addressed many of the local workers gathered there by name, laughed at them for bringing down a manch, and spoke without a single harsh word against any of the political rivals. He laughed at “bua” and said amidst laughter that he was sure that after travelling on the Expressway built by the Samajwadis the Prime Minister would also press the cycle button on polling day.