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UP: Challenges Ahead for SP After Losing Key Bastions in Lok Sabha Bypolls

Analysts say that poor candidate selection, declaring candidates on the last day of nomination and the absence of Akhilesh Yadav from campaigning were the main reasons for SP's loss.
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Lucknow: Nearly after a decade, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inroads into Azamgarh and Rampur - the traditional Samajwadi Party (SP) bastions where it had no presence earlier. As results came in for the bypolls to two Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, the ruling government bagged both the seats.

In Azamgarh, BJP's Dinesh Lal Yadav' Nirahua' defeated SP's Dharmendra Yadav by 8,679 votes, while Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi beat Asim Raza by 42,192 votes in Rampur. Both seats have been SP strongholds for decades.

The Azamgarh seat fell vacant following the election of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav to the state Assembly, while Azam Khan vacated the Rampur seat.

The two constituencies went to the polls on June 23, and Azamgarh and Rampur recorded a 49.43% and 41.39% turnout, respectively. BSP did not contest the Rampur bypoll, which helped BJP as the Dalit votes shifted to the saffron party. NOTA got 4,447 votes.

SP Won Azamgarh Despite Modi Wave In 2014

Azamgarh parliamentary seat has 18 lakh electorates. SP had won the seat in 2014 and 2019 despite the Modi wave, while BJP won it in 2009 and BSP in 2004.

In 2019, Akhilesh Yadav won the seat with a 60.4% vote share, while BJP's Dinesh Lal was the runner-up with 35.1%. In 2014, Mulayam Singh Yadav won the seat with a 35.4% vote share by defeating Ramakant Yadav, who secured 28.9% votes.

Surpassing its own best performance of 2012, SP has created a history in the parliamentary constituency of its supremo Akhilesh Yadav by winning all 10 Assembly seats in Azamgarh. The SP also clinched the Zila panchayat chairperson seat. Despite having a stronghold in the region, SP faced defeat in Lok Sabha byelections.

Azamgarh's seat saw a triangular contest between BJP's Dinesh Lal Yadav' Nirahua', SP's Dharmendra Yadav and BSP's Shah Alam, also known as Guddu Jamali.

To begin with, political observers feel BSP's Shah Alam dented the prospects of Dharmendra Yadav. Another factor for this tight contest could be the absence of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav from the campaign.

"The party with ten MLAs in the district couldn't win an MP seat; the top leadership must introspect within the party. Party leadership always lacks a candidate when it comes to fielding a candidate for the Lok Sabha constituency. Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat has been mostly occupied by SP's first family – always represented by a member of the Yadav clan only. Some party leaders were trying to convince Akhilesh to field a local candidate from Azamgarh. Still, the SP national president decided otherwise," Rajeev Yadav, a social activist based in Azamgarh, told NewsClick.

He alleged that SP never allowed local leadership to emerge, nor did they have any candidate who is MP material.

"Ramakant Yadav was elected as an MP from SP symbol, and he used to consider one of the strong leaders among Yadav community, but party leadership never promoted him at the local level as BJP does with its candidates," he said, adding that the SP chief has disappointed not only the party cadre but also the secular voters who were loyal to his party in a politically significant state.

Like these byelections, Azamgarh had witnessed a triangular fight between BSP's Guddu Jamali, SP's Mulayam Singh and Ramakant Yadav of the BJP in 2014. However, the triangular contest did not affect the BJP as it got a usual vote share of around 28%, while Mulayam Singh Yadav won with a thin margin, getting a 35% vote share. Guddu Jamali, in 2014, stood third with a 27% vote share, which directly damaged the prospects of SP.

Absence of Akhilesh on Ground Spoiled Game

The Rampur result also disappointed the SP. BJP's Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi defeated Azam Khan aide Mohammad Asim Raja. Lodhi got 3,67,397 votes and defeated Raja by a margin of 42,192 votes.

Another factor that spoiled the SP's game seems to be the absence of Akhilesh Yadav from the campaign, even as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath aggressively canvassed in both Rampur and Azamgarh.

While the voter demography of Rampur – which comprise 8.5 lakh Muslims and around 8.3 lakh Hindus, including 1.25 lakh Lodhis, 75,000 Kurmis and about 45,000 Yadavs (all OBCs), may appear in favour of Asim Raja, the Lok Sabha polls of 1991 and 2014 – which went in favour of BJP's Rajendra Kumar Sharma and Dr Naipal Singh respectively - have proved that elections are not just about statistical calculations always.

Rampur-based senior journalist Maroof Khan said the absence of Akhilesh Yadav from campaigning on either of the seats spoiled the SP's game. Azam Khan was seen fighting the entire election alone in Rampur. Therefore, the core voter of SP remained confused about whether the candidate belonged to SP or Azam Khan.

The low voter turnout of 41.39% changed the course of the polls. Azam Khan and his son Abdullah Azam had claimed the voters were being "terrorised from going to the polling booths" and "voters in minority-dominated areas being turned away."

The political analyst suggested that the low voter turnout may have dented the Muslim vote share.

"Had Khan contested the election, the result would have been different. If any party believes minority voters will always rely on secular parties, they live in a fool's paradise. Raja was a weak candidate. Asim was contesting elections in Khan's image. The outcome is all about selecting poor candidates, declaring candidates on the last day of nomination and absence of Akhilesh Yadav from campaigning turned out to be a loss for SP."

With multi-pronged challenges within the party and family, the road to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections will not be easy for Akhilesh Yadav.

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