Now, you can not only see and hear the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, you can also smell it. On the fourth anniversary of his government on Wednesday, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav unleashed the usual flood of goodies, a power substation here, a mobile wallet there. Among these was a line of perfumes called “Samajwadi Sugandh" or fragrance of Socialism. There are four perfumes to a box, each capturing the aroma of a city in UP: Lucknow, Varanasi, Agra and Kannauj.

This has got be a complex bouquet. It must have top notes of socialism, good governance, communal harmony and equality, as the chief minister pointed out, all blended in the delicate water of Lohiaite pretension. But let the fragrance settle and other aromas are bound to float up to the surface. These come from a strong extract of Hindi chauvinism, subtle oils of minority politics, the nectar of nepotism and a concentrate of Ludditism, distilled from the finest buffalo dung. Beneath it all, the unmistakeable base notes of goonda raj.

Naturally, the perfume must be customised according to each city. From Agra, the peaty notes of a Rs 1.89 crore trauma centre lying unused for four years. From Varanasi, the acid tang of defecting bahubalis. From Kannauj, the flowery notes of a bahu turned reluctant MP. From Lucknow, the heady vapours of a 25% cut in liquor prices.

The Samajwadi Party in a bottle – which voter could resist it?

Laptops and Billy Joel

The perfume is expected to revive Kannauj’s itra industry. Samajwadi Party spokesperson Pankhuri Pathak also explained that they didn’t have the marketing skills of the Bharatiya Janata Party, so they would have to rely on perfumes to transmit the good work the party had done. Nothing works like the power of olfactory suggestion, evidently.

Since these good works are largely illusory, the party’s imagination is forced to go on overdrive. It helps that the assembly elections are just a year away. Poll time usually brings out the best of the SP’s creative powers.

The party’s previous inspirations have included a music video featuring the song “Mann Se Hai Mulayam, Par Irada Loha Hai" (Soft of heart but iron-willed)”, set to the tune of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire. In the video which appeared before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav swoops down on a rally in a helicopter, sporting a jaunty red cap and an air of competence. In other shots, grateful girls clutch free laptops distributed by the soft-hearted Netaji and Akhilesh Yadav rides a cycle with a dreamy smile on his face. All the while, the sun shines through the cycle flag.

Free laptops have been a Samajwadi Party trademark for a while now. At least, ever since Akhilesh Yadav became heir apparent and tried to rebrand the party as hip and fresh rather than mired in parochial politics. In the past, it has not worked so well. The laptops distributed to intermediate students soon after the 2012 assembly elections came with Akhilesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s faces plastered on the wallpaper. When students tried to change the wallpaper, the laptops crashed. Undaunted, the party brought back the freebie ahead of the 2014 polls.

When the Samajwadi Party was trounced by the BJP in the elections, Mulayam Singh Yadav blamed the laptops. They had helped Modi's speeches reach people’s homes, he said, which had then translated into votes. The SP’s old suspicions of machines and modernity seemed to have come back with the poll defeat.

Homegrown socialism

This year, the UP government has revived the Akhilesh Yadav Laptop Yojana, but the itra suggests the older politics of the SP is also alive and well. The party appears to speak in two languages. One promises 24-hour electricity, expressways and industry – the slick language of development mastered so well by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But this time, the Samajwadi Party also seems to be pushing its samajwad roots. Socialism now comes in a bottle, smelling like itra, a local fragrance rather than a posh brand. But of course. It’s the homegrown socialism of the original “dhartiputra" (son of the soil), Mulayam Singh Yadav, a wrestler from Saifai who rose to become chief minister of the state. Any takers?