CHANDIGARH: The humble cycle is in the news again, this time for political reasons.

Over the weekend India’s Election Commission ruled that the bicycle symbol, synonymous with Uttar Pradesh’s Samajwadi Party (SP), be awarded to the breakaway faction headed by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

For a brief period-till the ownership of the bicycle symbol was decided between the contending stakeholders- the profile of this lowly two-wheeler dating back to the early 19th century appeared critical to Indian politics, like never before.

However, the spontaneous jubilation the verdict over the bicycle elicited, only augmented its overall standing in the eyes of biking enthusiasts.

Political pundits reasoned that with Congress’ Hand on its handlebars Akhilesh Yadav’s cycle could determine UP’s electoral outcome by spelling trouble at the hustings for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP.

After all, bicycles are something politicians turn to in order to stress their humbleness and, in UP’s case, their electability.

MP’s cycling to parliament in Delhi to strike a feeble blow in the fight against pollution, feature periodically on television news channels and on the front pages of national newspapers.

Provincial politicians are equally enthusiastic about cycling jamborees that invariably invoke a public resonance. This is primarily because any association with a cycle imbues even the powerful with an aura- however ersatz- of worthiness, dependability and humility.

Public figures, especially politicians, smugly recall the miles they bicycled to school or college or both, as their badge of accomplishment in their youth, all of which tends to go down well with audiences.

However, for someone who is a diehard cyclist the spotlight, though fleeting, on my principal mode of transport is welcome. So is the hope that the cycle will once again gain real and not token or jingoistic popularity in a traffic-crazed milieu, which is choking urban India.

Meanwhile, I recall an amusing bicycle story from the 1970’s involving Leonid Brezhnev, the former Soviet Union’s political czar, which highlights the bicycles foremost role in a perilous situation.

A keen bear hunter, Brezhnev on one of his visits to Hungary, then a Soviet satellite, expressed a desire to shoot one such animal in that country’s then thickly forested region.

The request from the powerful General Secretary of the Soviet Union panicked the Hungarians as over years, bears had become near extinct in their forests.

But eager to please their Soviet master, they consented, and in a bizarrely complicated plan pressed a circus bear into the plot. The aim was to letting the trained animal loose in the jungle for Brezhnev, poised on a machhan, to shoot with his telescopic hunting rifle, adding another bear pelt to his bloated collection.

But as they say the best laid plans on men and mice often go awry. And this one most definitely did, but in a delightful way.

Happy to be free, the performing circus bear was merrily foraging through the forest, when he chanced upon an innocent cyclist, who was not part of the elaborate official Hungarian plan.

Immediately, years of circus training kicked in as the performing bear delightfully sighted the cyclist in the middle of the forest.He slapped the rider off his saddle, commandeered the bike and began steadily pedaling his way down the forest path as his keepers had trained him.

As he sailed past an astonished Brezhnev, the flabbergasted Soviet strongman lost his equanimity and the bead on his target. However, unaware of the incipient threat, the bear insouciantly biked away into the forest, only to be netted later by his circus keepers and a hugely embarrassed Hungarian establishment.

The pervasive bicycle had saved the bear from being killed.

Perhaps, Akhilesh Yadav’s bicycle too could similarly prevail. ENDS