By Kalyani Shankar
Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav have emerged as the primary challenger to the BJP. in the February Assembly polls now that the poll scene is explicit. The polls will be held in seven phases from February 10 to March 7. March 10 will reveal who becomes the victor.
The massive turnout at the young Yadav chieftain’s election rallies is testimony to Akhilesh’s growing popularity. Most psephologists say that the polls have become a bi-polar contest between the Samajwadi Party and the BJP. Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi also remarked about the growing support base saying ‘Laltopi’ (red cap) is a ‘Lal battle (red light) for UP.
Yadav Junior came out of the shadows of his father and former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav a long time ago, and today he is the only leader for his party. Akhilesh has gone through many ups and downs in his two decades of political life. Leading the election campaign for the coalition, he is a much more mature politician today.
SP’s political strategy is well calibrated. As a priority, Akhilesh has strengthened himself within the party and sorted out his family fights with his uncle Shivpal Yadav who is now back in the SPSP. Uncle and nephew have buried the hatchet, and uncle has come onboard on his Vijay rathyatra.
Single-handedly, he stitched up alliances, particularly with Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal. What is working to the benefit of the S.P. is the support from the farmer community in western Uttar Pradesh. They have been upset with the BJP for almost one year, as the Centre did not heed their protests against the three farm laws passed in Parliament in 2019. The Jats hold the key in Western UP., and they back RLD.
The junior Yadav has astutely moved away from his father’s trusted Muslim-Yadav formula to a new kind of social engineering with a larger social coalition. Akhilesh has learned lessons the hard way. He had experimented with several combinations. As joining hands with Congress in the 2017 Assembly elections and with the BSP. in 2019 polls failed to yield desired results, he is now depending on smaller caste-based regional parties, particularly those with a non-Yadav OBC base. He has roped in smaller parties like Rashtriya Lok Dal, Mahan dal, Sanjay Singh Chouhan’s Democratic (Socialist) Party, Krishna Patel’s Apna Dal (Communist), Rajesh Siddhartha’s Political Justice, and Ram Raj Singh Patel’s Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sena.
Interestingly, the SP. chief has promised a caste census if elected to power. Though backward classes parties have been in power in Uttar Pradesh since the early 1990s, his predecessors did not take any risk.
His calculations are based on the Samajwadi Party’s internal survey, which revealed that in the 2017 elections, over 50% of OBCs voted for BJP. while around 15% supported SPSP. Akhilesh has given an open invitation to all parties and sections to join him in throwing out the BJP.
He successfully poached on several OBC leaders from the BJP, including Swami Prasad Maurya, in his efforts to broaden his party’s social base. Two influential ministers and some MLAs quit BJP. and joined SP days before the poll announcement. Swami Prasad Maurya, a powerful OBC. (Other Backward Class) leader and five-time MLA, joined the B.J.P. in 2016 after quitting Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Many from the B.S.P. like Yogesh Verma, Mithai Lal Bharti have already switched to S.PS.P.
As for countering Kamandal politics, Akhilesh has embraced the “me too” line to counter BJP.’s politics. He has also promised to establish Vishnu Nagar and a massive statue of Parashuram on the Purvanchal expressway.
He raises other issues like covid handling, development, law, and order, poor health infrastructure, reservation, and inflation. He also presents the controversial incidents in Gorakhpur, Hathras, and Unnao.
BJP. is counting on Modi to get votes. Yogi is contesting for the Assembly for the first time. The BJP. seems to be banking on the polarisation of Jat votes like in the 2017 polls to maintain its dominance.
To counter the SP. caste strategy, the BJP. has given tickets to 44 OBC. names, including 16 Jats, followed by 43 upper castes and 19 from Scheduled Castes. The list indicates that the BJP. is hopeful of getting the Jat votes in western UP, where the rural community is concentrated.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who leads the Congress in UP, is banking on women’s votes and has promised all kinds of freebies. The BSP chief Mayawati is lying low but working quietly after her party’s miserable performance in 2017 and 2019.
UP is known for casting votes on a caste basis. Whether Akhilesh’s Mandal politics or BJP.’s Kamandal politics works in these polls is a million-dollar question. (IPA Service)