Lucknow(web team): All his life, 'netaji' Mulayam Singh Yadav, a trained wrestler himself, promoted wrestling. But, his son and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has introduced a paradigm shift of sorts by deciding to promote cricket amongst youngsters from villages, ostensibly to draw the youth voters in view of the upcoming assembly election in 2017.
Be it Ram Manohar Lohia, Janeshwar Mishra or Mulayam himself, Samajwadi leading lights have all along diatribe cricket as a game of the "gora" (British) rulers. However, Akhilesh, who became the youngest UP chief minister at 38 in 2012, has different ideas.
On the lines of the famously successful IPL, he has started the IGCL–Indian Grameen Cricket League -- in which teams from different districts of UP are competing at a tournament going on at the KD Singh Babu stadium here. The chief minister proudly informs the media that 32 of the state's 75 districts already have their cricket teams, while the rest would do this within the next two-three months.
"I tell youngsters not to crave for 'naukri' (a job) or 'shaadi' (marriage) but use their talent and do something for the society and the country," says Akhilesh.
The impetus behind this gambit is not difficult to fathom. Election Commission records show that the maximum number of first-time voters in the latest voter list (2.30 crore) are from UP, most of them from rural areas.
Since his elevation as chief minister, Akhilesh has transformed from a callow political heir to a mature political strategist, and he is well aware of the importance of the youth vote. "In the coming election, the youth and the new voters would be the decisive factor," he asserts in answer to a scribe's question.
"Akhilesh 'bhaiya' has done a great job," gushes Amit, an IGCL player from the nearby district of Sitapur. "The good thing is that now we have an option, we have a hope that we can do something in life even with only sporting talent," he adds.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has indeed got his hand on the pulse of the young voter. His idea of a cycle track in Lucknow, and promoting himself as the harbinger of the metro rail in the state capital are all part of an image makeover exercise being done with the next election in view.