The news reaching Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh, from the hinterland of the state do not augur well for Akhilesh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party chief, who only a week back had dared to teach a lesson to the Congress for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. While he already rolled out his plans to ensure Congress’ defeat in Madhya Pradesh by fielding 80 candidates in the upcoming assembly election, his anxious supporters in UP are reportedly shifting their allegiance to Congress.
Only a couple of days back, senior Muslim leaders belonging to SP and Dalit leaders of BSP from eastern UP met in Deoria and decided to support Rahul Gandhi. Before the Deoria meet, they had held a few preliminary meetings in other towns of eastern UP. The SP leaders are upset with Akhilesh for two reasons: first, his apathy to identify with the senior SP leader Azam Khan, who has been targeted by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and subjected immense humiliation. In fact, Azam Khan has been pretty much left to fend for himself.
The unkind treatment meted out to Azam has in fact not gone unnoticed by the Muslims of the state. They are feeling hurt at apathetic attitude of SP leader towards Khan, who has been a founding member of SP and a close comrade of the late Mulayam Singh. They point out that the Yogi government has unleashed a reign of terror against Muslims in the garb of finishing off mafia dons and cleansing the state of the underworld.
The Dalit leaders are not happy with the ambivalent approach of Mayawati towards the INDIA bloc. They nurse the hurt feeling that her unreceptive approach has left the Dalits completely at the mercy of the upper caste musclemen. They had expected that Akhilesh after the formation of INDIA, the united forum of the opposition parties, would take the initiative to bring all the smaller dalit caste organisations on a single platform, but that is not happening.
The Jats too have been feeling alienated from Akhilesh. The primary reason for this is his deliberately keeping away from the farmers’ movement. If the deliberations at these in-house meetings are any indication of the political developments in UP, it could well be surmised that they may switch their loyalty to the Congress just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. For obvious security reasons they have been restraining right now, but the sources maintain that some of these leaders have been in touch with Rahul.
Of course, while Congress not conceding 14 assembly seats to SP in Madhya Pradesh is being cited as the reason for the straining of relations between Congress and SP, sources maintain that spectre of shifting of the SP support base to Congress has been the primary reason. The SP leaders feel that while Congress speaks of opposition unity, it was in fact weakening the party in its home state.
SP leadership is apprehensive of Congress retrieving its lost ground in UP. The success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the amount of passion it has generated amongst the common people and made the passive Congress workers reinvent themselves, has pushed the SP panic button. Revival of Congress is certainly not in the interest of the SP. Yadavs in UP are with SP, but in nearby Bihar, they are with RJD, whose leader Lalu Yadav is a vocal supporter of Congress and specially Sonia and Rahul. Akhilesh is also apprehensive of shift of Yadav vote in UP.
Certainly, seat-sharing was not such a big issue that should have forced Akhilesh to worsen his relation his relation with Congress. True enough he perceived the denial as rejecting his political stature. The matter of fact is the SP has never been a force in MP. In 2018, the SP contested 52 seats and only won Bijawar. Its winning candidate, Rajesh Shukla, joined the BJP last year. Obviously, his demand of 14 seats was illogical. The situation has worsened to such an extent that almost all constituents are contesting against each other.
Akhilesh’s personal ambition has caused severe damage to the basic foundation of the INDIA bloc. His fielded 80 candidates will be eating the secular votes in MP and might precipitate a defeat for Congress. At least 98 seats would be witnessing four-cornered contest amongst the Congress, BJP, SP and AAP. Arvind Kejriwal too has set up 77 candidates. Like Akhilesh, he too quite well knows that AAP candidates cut into the Congress votes. The most interesting aspect of the elections has been that SP and AAP have fielded maximum number of candidates in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and MP, in which Congress expects to secure solid victories.
As the elections are approaching, cracks in INDIA opposition bloc have begun to appear. Far from presenting a united front, at least in MP, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party are engaged in verbal sparring. Akhilesh is not concerned of the damage it would do to the INDIA bloc. A couple of days back, MP Congress president Kamal Nath said that the Samajwadi Party’s choice of seats would ultimately favour the BJP. He said, “We tried to form an alliance: it wasn’t merely about seats. The issue was which seats to choose. Regrettably, disagreements arose over the seats where our supporters believed the BJP would gain.” It was after getting irritated at the insinuations of Akhilesh against some Congress leaders, Kamal Nath had said “Aare bhai ye Akhilesh Vakhilesh chhodo” (forget about Akhilesh Yadav).
It is a wrong notion that in the post-Mulayam era, SP has shed its ‘anti-Congress tag’ to pursue national ambition. Projection of national ambition is a ploy to present Akhilesh as a national leader. Failure of Akhilesh to counter and overcome the domination of the BJP has already cost him heavily.
In sharp contrast, Mulayam Singh was more pragmatic and always rose above the personal gain. His stand on nuclear deal with US is a testimony to it. While Left opposed and even withdrew their support to Manmohan Singh government, Mulayam lent his support. Mulayam Singh Yadav was instrumental in making Kanshi Ram win his first Lok Sabha election by giving him the Etawah Lok Sabha seat to contest from in 1991.
Since Akhilesh took over the reins of the party, he is yet to taste success against the BJP. The SP could not win any major polls since 2017 irrespective of various alliance formulae Akhilesh applied. The real tribute by the SP will be to improve its performance in elections – from panchayat to parliament polls.
Mulayam tried bringing OBCs, Dalits and Muslims together by joining hands with Kanshi Ram in 1993. The formula had no name then, but it worked and Mulayam became the chief minister for the second time. Akhilesh tried the same formula in 2019, by joining hands with Mayawati and trying to combine the three major castes-community groups that together account for 85% of UP’s population. But his initiative failed. The question is why? Why the people did not repose their faith in SP initiative?
Mulayam was the face of Mandal politics in UP, but in contrast Akhilesh could not present himself as the face of the OBC community. During his tenure, a big chunk of Yadavs joined the BJP. It is most perceptible that the two ‘secular’ parties were never natural allies. Akhilesh took to most abrasive and aggressive stand only for the reason that the two Congress leaders made the SP wait till 1 in the night. “They made our leaders wait till 1 am but did not give us a seat. I want to tell the Congress, don’t talk about our party through your chirkut (idiot) leaders,” Akhilesh thundered on October 19. The chirkut barb was meant for UP Congress chief Ajay Rai, who had simply said that the SP should “be patient and support” the Congress in MP.
There is little doubt that his lack of political understanding got reflected in his accusation that the Congress has betrayed the Samajwadi Party and INDIA bloc partners and the Congress leaders are in cahoots with the BJP. Akhilesh also said that he would not have trusted the grand old party if he had known that “Congress would betray them”.
A closer look at the process of formation of INDIA would unravel the truth that Akhilesh has never been a serious player. Notwithstanding his boast of having a strong base in his home state, the SP has been on a losing spree since 2017 when Akhilesh took away the reins of power from his father, late Mulayam Singh Yadav. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Akhilesh joined hands with Bahujan Samaj Party. While SP did not benefit from the alliance, the BSP won ten Lok Sabha seats. It is indicative of the fact that Dalits do not have faith in Akhilesh. In recent times, Muslims have also got alienated from SP.
The recent Ghosi win is being cited as SP regaining its lost ground. But the fact is otherwise and is known to the political watchers of the state. The SP could win as the Muslims who after Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra have identified themselves with the Congress, threw their weight behind the SP candidate at the call of the Congress to defeat the BJP. In 2022, the SP entered into alliance with smaller parties, like Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), but this did not work as well and the SP was nowhere close to the majority mark. (IPA Service)