If Mayawati can

When it comes to VIP privileges, Akhilesh Yadav refuses to be left behind

Uttar Pradesh's most watched political battle has moved to the tarmac. In January this year, BSP chief Mayawati had haggled with the civil aviation ministry until they allowed her the privilege of driving right up to aircraft, accompanied by a personal security officer. Now, peeved Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has filed a request for the same privilege. It appears to be the creme de la creme of entitlements, distributed more selectively than lal battis and parking space.

VIP privileges seem to be like catnip to politicians, no matter how they fashion their public image. Akhilesh and Mayawati, for instance, have very different political styles. Mayawati is remote and queenly, putting party colleagues in the shade, intensely concerned with the business of iconising herself. This is evident in the massive Mayawati statues found in UP's parks and public squares, and the phalanx of stone elephants at Dalit memorials that seem to herald her presence. At BSP rallies, she stands apart and alone; no other BSP member is allowed to crowd the frame. SP's political outings, in contrast, present a family portrait, as a gaggle of Yadavs vie for attention on stage. Akhilesh is the impetuous new political talent who must be chastised by his father, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, from time to time. The chief minister favours a more conciliatory image than his predecessor, doling out laptops to schoolchildren, wife at his side. But the need to come across as a dynamic, accessible leader does not interfere with haranguing for more elite VIP privileges.

The competition in UP for vehicular access on the tarmac draws its charge from one of Indian politics's most implacable regional rivalries. Like the DMK vs AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the TMC vs Left in West Bengal, the enmity between the SP and the BSP has shaped the politics of the state. Each party has seized the chance to show up the other in the assembly, in pet political projects and now, over VIP access.

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