Akhilesh needs right cards to scare BJP, may go solo in 2022 polls

The gamble of the SP contesting the by-polls on its own paid handsome returns with the party winning three (Rampur, Zaidpur and Jalalpur) of the 11 seats, thus wresting a seat each from the BJP and the BSP, while retaining its pocket borough of Rampur.
In the run-up to the recent by-polls in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party (SP) President Akhilesh Yadav was largely missing from action on the ground.

While Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had hit the campaign trail by touring all the 11 Assembly constituencies up for grabs before voting took place on October 21, Yadav only showed up to address a public meeting in Rampur for SP nominee Tazeen Fatma, the wife of embattled Mohammad Azam Khan, currently faced with scores of police cases filed by the state government.

Even as the socialist party had upped the ante against the state government through social media posts and press communiqués, the fragmented opposition space in UP was seen as facilitating a cakewalk for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The snapping of the ties between the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) following the 2019 Lok Sabha rout was not expected to help the opposition cause either, with the SP, the BSP and the Congress preferring to contest separately.

Nonetheless, the gamble of the SP contesting on its own paid handsome returns with the party winning three (Rampur, Zaidpur, and Jalalpur) of the 11 seats, thus wresting a seat each from the BJP and the BSP, while retaining its traditional Rampur pocket borough. Peeved at the surprise victory, BSP chief Mayawati was quick to blame the BJP for allegedly allowing the SP to win a few seats under a conspiracy to “demoralise” her party cadres ahead of the 2022 faceoff.

Not only did the SP win three seats convincingly, but it also increased its vote share, even as the BSP drew a blank and witnessed a dwindling vote percentage.

Akhilesh, who had forcefully taken control of the outfit in 2017 from his father and party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, had incurred electoral losses in 2017 and 2019 in the Assembly and the parliamentary elections after sewing pre-poll pacts with the Congress and the BSP, respectively. Much against the advice of Mulayam to go solo in these previous elections, the junior Yadav went ahead with pre-poll marriages, only to regret later.

However, unexpected poll exploits in the recent by-elections have cemented the belief in the party of fighting future polls on its own strength and without collaborating with other parties. Besides from winning three seats, SP candidates stood second at four places, losing  by slender margins.

“The party managed to win three seats in these by-polls by fighting alone and we intend to retain the template for the 2022 election,” SP Spokesperson and former state minister Rajendra Chaudhary told Business Standard. He observed the past experiment of allying with other parties in elections did not fetch good results and the party had wised up to it.

Political pundits also predict by the time elections happen in 2022, the anti-incumbency factor would set in against the BJP regime, while the SP would emerge as a powerful and credible opposition in the state under Akhilesh’s stewardship.

“The SP’s decision to go solo in polls is the right strategy. Every party has its unique support base and election is the time to showcase your strength. Pre-poll alliances by the opposition parties have, in fact, only helped the BJP at the hustings,” political commentator Ramesh Dixit observed.

He said the UP byelection results had enthused both Akhilesh and his party cadre. However, the former UP chief minister would still need to tour the state to channelise the popular anger and disenchantment of the people in his favour and offer a tough fight to the BJP.

In the present circumstances, Dixit forecast, the BSP was unlikely to stage a comeback, since a new wave of Dalit leadership was emerging in UP, which would upstage the purported monopoly of Mayawati on the vote bank of the marginalised communities.

“The BSP is perceptibly no longer associated with popular issues and the party is rarely seen hitting the streets to highlight government failures,” he stated, even as he claimed the Congress was also likely to emerge stronger.

Meanwhile, Akhilesh has started the process of strengthening the party organisation at the district levels. After the Lok Sabha election rout, he dissolved all state units and wings, sparing only UP party President Naresh Uttam Patel.

Akhilesh has stated the party would prepare a road map for hitting the road to the village level and apprising the people of its political agenda and also to expose the BJP government in the state.

In his new avatar, the SP chief has been tweeting regularly on burning issues concerning the economy, jobs and rural distress to corner the central and state governments, while claiming that the Adityanath dispensation was repackaging and rebranding his old projects.

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