Virendra Singh Rawat: SP reduces its top forum to 'anti-Modi' theatre

There were high expectations from the ninth national convention of the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) in Lucknow during October 8-10.

The state capital was decorated with banners, posters, cut-outs, festoons and party flags, screaming to indicate that Uttar Pradesh (UP) remains the SP bastion; its pulverisation at the hands of a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha elections notwithstanding.

Expectations were that the convention would target Modi and the BJP-led central government on policies and programmes, yet the tenor and pitch of sabre rattling on Modi was unexpected.

A forum strictly for brainstorming and deliberating the way forward was reduced to a virtual anti-Modi slugfest. The remaining precious time was consumed in warning the "back-stabbers" and "self-serving" ministers/leaders of the party. The convention thus, showed no vision to the socialists for the future, other than trying to project the SP as the only alternative to the BJP.

Top SP leaders, including party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and powerful Cabinet minister Shivpal Singh Yadav and Mohd Azam Khan, displayed uncharacteristic candour and oratory to assail Prime Minister Modi. The harshest words and phrases were reserved for him, while criticism for the BJP was at best mere subtext of speeches.

Besides, there were none or just passing references to the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), although the latter had been the other strongest political outfit in UP over the last decade. The equations have surely changed after the recent Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP not only swept 71 of the 80 seats in the state, but went on to form a stable government at the Centre.

The key takeaway of the convention is that the SP seems shy to shed its regional character and is ready to play to the gallery for consolidating its vote bank. Mulayam, still smarting from the Lok Sabha poll debacle, proudly proclaimed the SP remained the most trusted outfit for Muslims and the party would go to any length to champion the cause of secularism.

He even mentioned that Lucknow had been deliberately chosen as the venue for the convention since it exemplified social harmony between the Hindus and Muslims and the city had never witnessed tension between the two communities.

Although the party adopted a resolution opposing foreign direct investment, the deliberations proved that the SP is content with being the regional heavyweight and it would be many summers before it could seriously aspire for any notable role in national politics.

There was little talk about improving the law and order situation in the state or ramping up power and infrastructure sectors to attract investment, which are the main issues talked about.

With changed dynamics both at the state and the Centre, the SP is faced with an existential crisis. Besides, it would be facing an anti-incumbency factor in the 2017 Assembly elections.

Emboldened by success in the recent Assembly bypolls, the SP has resorted to a high-octane attack on Modi to position itself as the sole defender of secular values and thus, making overtures to minorities. Oblique references to the BSP and Congress would keep SP pitched against Modi diametrically.

Besides, the two-and-a-half-year-old Akhilesh Yadav government has little to show as achievements other than launching populist free tablet and unemployment dole schemes, which have now been discontinued after the rout.

The Lucknow metro rail project is the only major project, which is slowly started to take wings. Other flagship projects, including the Agra-Lucknow expressway, Lucknow IT City and so on have had several hiccups and are yet to begin on the ground.

The BSP is in soul-searching mode and did not even contest the state bypolls. The Congress remains in a shambles and has exhibited little enthusiasm for any resurrection in the near future. Factionalism remains its biggest malaise.

The BJP, which worked as a strong unit during the Lok Sabha polls, is yet to realign to the new reality that most of its tall leaders have now been elected to Parliament. It is yet to overwhelm factionalism and identify core issues to connect to the masses other than emotional issues.

The generational shift in the SP, which started with Akhilesh taking over as the chief minister, is also taking concrete shape. Several members of the extended Yadav family are now elected representatives.