Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav stands exposed. His consistent harping on the claim that his ‘PDA’ formula will transform his party’s fortunes and ensure the defeat of the BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh has turned him into a suspect even in the eyes of his own partymen. A section of the senior SP leaders have begun asking how Akhilesh, who had miserably failed to defeat the BJP in direct contest in the 2022 assembly elections, could claim to win 65 Lok Sabha seats fighting on two fronts in 2024.
These SP leaders are also horror-struck at his sustained thrust to ensure the defeat of the Congress. Behind this electoral strategy of Akhilesh, they now suspect some kind of motive. Incidentally, this is for the first time in his political career that Akhilesh has failed to induce moral support among his party people in his unhinged pursuit to defeat the Congress.
While his call to the party rank and file was to defeat the BJP, he nevertheless kept focusing on the Congress, a secular party, as the main class enemy of the backwards and Dalits, a curious approach that has intrigued the senior SP leaders. Though these leaders are not willing to confront Akhilesh on this issue at this stage, some of them have made him aware of the plight and challenges the party would face in future. These leaders feel that his targeting the Congress has not been well received by the rank and file at the ground level.
Many of these leaders do not subscribe to Akhilesh Yadav’s move of clubbing the Congress with BJP. Their hunch got a major boost when BJP Chanakya Amit Shah suggested to his party workers at a meet in Indore in MP to help the SP in defeating the Congress. This advice to the BJP workers is certainly strange, but at the same time it presents a broader canvas for the future developments. The leaders recall how before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Mulayam Singh Yadav had wished Narendra Modi a happy return to the office for the second time.
Meanwhile, the prospect of Congress candidates losing the election in the constituencies from where the SP has fielded its candidates has enthused the BJP cadres and leaders. Nonetheless, it has not gone unnoticed by the senior SP leaders. Throughout his campaigning in Madhya Pradesh, Akhilesh had put forward the Congress as his target and made an intense appeal to ensure its defeat.
Questions are being asked by the insiders, how strong is Akhilesh Yadav’s new electoral formula? They also point out that the SP under his leadership has lost four consecutive elections in UP since 2014. Undeniably, it is an open secret that Akhilesh lacks charisma and also does not have the image of vote-catcher. He has been surviving on the image and appeal of his late father. It is also pointed out that his PDA plank, comprising the Pichde (backward), Dalit and Alpsankhyak (minority) alliance, has failed to take shape and has already started showing signs of disintegration.
Speculations are making rounds in the political circles that some SP leaders may leave the party and join the Congress. They are nevertheless curiously watching the election verdict of the states. In case the Congress thrashes the BJP, these leaders would give a shape to their design. They do not see any future for their political career in SP. They point out that Akhilesh has lost almost all the elections ever since he took the command of the party.
While minorities (Muslims) have already started shifting their loyalty to Congress, the OBC and EBC are angry with Akhilesh for questioning the relevance of the caste census. It is believed he might have supported the caste census, if Rahul Gandhi had not announced his plan to make it a national issue and an election agenda for Lok Sabha election. Probably, Akhilesh is the only leader in the opposition camp who is bitterly critical of the caste census. His stand in fact goes against the spirit of Mandal policy and politics that his father championed.
The signal of the shift is perceptible at the office of the Congress Minority Cell in Lucknow. Till some months ago, the office wore a deserted look. There were literally no visitors. Now the same office sports a galvanised look, leaders have dusted off lethargy and have been proactively working to mobilise Muslims and a section of OBCs and Dalits, who have fallen off the power pyramid with the rise of the BJP in UP. UPCC Minority Wing chief Shahnawaz Alam says: “Anyone who seeks to survive in the non-BJP space in UP will have to join hands with the Congress. We have been running extensive campaigns and meetings in the Dalit-dominated areas to demonstrate that Muslims are returning to the Congress, and the communities together with a section of OBCs form a formidable political force.”
Political analysts believe that UP has 42% OBC, 20% Dalits and 21% Muslim voters accounting for around 83% of all voters in the state. Akhilesh’s target is to wean away a large chunk of this group to his fold. But it does not appear to be a tenable proposition as during these years he has not made any sincere efforts to reach out to this section of the voters. The EBC and Dalits had to face the worst kind of torture from the upper caste goons and at the same time undergo severe state repression against them. If the sources are to be relied on, a significant number of Dalits have migrated to Delhi and places simply for security reasons.
Though Akhilesh claims to be champion of the EBC and Dalit cause, ironically, he continued to maintain passive silence through the repression. At no stage, he tried to build a popular movement against the oppression let loose on EBC and Dalits. It is worth recalling that in contrast, Mulayam Singh Yadav had worked assiduously to win over a large number of non-Yadav OBC voters by building up leaders like Beni Prasad Verma, Phoolan Devi and Raghuraj Shakya. However, Akhilesh has not been able to carry forward that legacy effectively, leading to a decline in the SP’s non-Yadav OBC vote bank.
It is really intriguing how Akhilesh has ignored the voting trend in Himachal and Karnataka. In both these states, especially in Karnataka, the Muslims voted for the Congress. In Mysore, the Muslims who have traditionally been with the JD(S) of Deve Gowda, switched their loyalty to the Congress. The recent by-election to the Ghosi assembly seat even in Uttar Pradesh is testimony to it. The SP candidate won. But it was not purely the victory for SP. In fact, the Congress call to vote for SP conjured the Muslims to rally behind SP.
Akhilesh is sure that Congress would lose the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Akhilesh perception underscores his political immaturity. It would simply not be a defeat for Congress; instead, the entire opposition would lose. Akhilesh must not nurse any skewed notion that in that scenario he would survive. The defeat of INDIA would finish off the opposition voice and its very existence.
By projecting PDA as an alternative to INDIA, Akhilesh has given yet another proof of his political naivety. Does he think that his UP based PDA will fetch vote for other opposition parties in other states? He for some time has been hobnobbing with regional parties like BBS to ensuring defeat of the Congress. Has he ever tried to float the state level units of the PDA in those states?
Only a politically naïve would subscribe to the perception that CPI(M), CPI, JD(U), RJD and others would severe their relations with Congress at the skewed call of Akhilesh to defeat the Congress. Yes, one thing is certain, that by defeating the Congress in UP, he would be ensuring that Modi becomes the prime minister for the third consecutive term. Through his actions and speech, Akhilesh has turned himself an object for ridicule. His acute hatred for Congress is evident in his describing it as a ‘chalu’ (cunning) party.
Akhilesh accuses the Congress of betraying the Dalits and tribals. But the question arises what good he has done for them. Dalit leader O P Rajbhar had allied his party with his SP in the hope that he would fight against the tyranny of BJP on Dalits and poor. But he turned disillusioned with his non-responsive approach. He broke the alliance. Ironically, so far no prominent Dalit leader has preferred to ally with him.
The SP leaders come out with amazing revelation. They say that Akhilesh is angry with Congress purely not for the reason that it did not give him seats he wanted, instead he is angry with the Congress’s move to identify itself with the aspirations and needs of the Muslims. The state Congress leadership has been striving to revive erstwhile social alliances which stood Congress in good stead till 1989.
What triggered the ill-will was the meeting of the state Congress chief Ajay Rai with the state’s Muslim face Azam Khan in the Sitapur jail. Khan was allowed to lurch. What has hurt Muslims most is Akhilesh not calling on him in jail and assure that party stands with him in this hour of crisis. Khan has been buried under a litany of cases and remains incarcerated. The style of functioning of Rahul Gandhi has aroused the hope of the Muslims and see Congress as their saviour. Obviously, they seek to return to the Congress fold. Saharanpur strongman Imran Masood is back in the Congress after a short stint in the SP and the BSP. Ahmed Hameed, son of former Baghpat MLA Kaukab Hameed, has also joined the Congress.
His ardent supporters try to create impression that following in the footsteps of his father he too was trying to experiment with the late Kanshi Ram’s formula of winning over the Dalits and extreme backward caste voters. At an event in Raebareli, Akhilesh invoked former alliance between the Dalit icon and his father Mulayam. He also accused the present-day BSP of having an understanding with BJP. Since 2017, Akhilesh made attempts to woo the state’s Dalit vote bank, but failed as the Dalits are finding it hard to repose their faith in him.
The SP faces a significant challenge in the Jat-dominated Western UP. Jats are reluctant to believe him. In 2022 assembly elections, Akhilesh had tried to align with Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD) of Jayant Chaudhary. But it did not work out. Jats are angry with Akhilesh that during the year long agitation of farmers, Akhilesh did not visit the agitation site and show his face even on one occasion. They nurse the view that he did not come to see them as he was scared of the wrath of Modi. (IPA Service)