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UP: What Does the Future Hold for SP After Mulayam?

Asad Rizvi |
Political experts believe that Akhilesh Yadav needs more hard work on the ground for the party's existence.
UP: What Does the Future Hold for SP After Mulayam?

Mulayam Singh Yadav. Image Courtesy: NDTV

The death of Mulayam Singh Yadav poses multiple political challenges to the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, Akhilesh Yadav. The foremost task for Akhilesh Yadav is to retain the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat, which has been vacant since his father's death. The next step is positioning the SP as a strong contender against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2024 General elections.

The Socialist leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, formed the SP in 1992 and mobilised the marginalised castes and Muslims under one umbrella. Mulayam Singh Yadav's party formed the government in Uttar Pradesh thrice between 1992 and 2022. In 2012, the SP formed a government on its own by defeating the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

However, Mulayam Singh Yadav's son, Akhilesh Yadav, took the reins of power in his hand and became the state's chief minister. Gradually, the role of Mulayam Singh Yadav diminished in the party. The difference between Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle, Shivpal Yadav, also emerged in 2016. As a result, the party's roots became weak, and the BJP took advantage of it and defeated the SP in the 2017 assembly elections.

In the past 10 years, the SP lost four consecutive elections to the saffron party, three under Akhilesh Yadav's leadership. Akhilesh Yadav tried several experiments but failed to stop the juggernaut of the BJP. The SP joined hands with Congress in the 2017 assembly elections and contested only 311 seats in the assembly of 403 seats. It won only 47 seats, and the vote percentage dipped from 29.19% in 2012 to 21.82% in 2017.

In the 2019 General elections, Akhilesh Yadav tried another experiment by allying with its archrival, the BSP. After 24 years of the infamous guest house of 1995, BSP chief Mayawati and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav shared a dais. However, the SP and BSP's social engineering failed to counter the BJP's communalism. The SP won only five seats and got 2.6% votes nationally and nearly 18% in UP.

Akhilesh Yadav tied alliances with several small caste-based forces in the 2022 Assembly election and gave a tough fight to the BJP but failed to dethrone Yogi Adityanath from power. However, the party strength was enhanced on the state assembly floor from 47 in 2017 to 111 in 2022.

Political experts believe that Akhilesh Yadav needs more hard work on the ground for the party's existence. The morale of workers is also down after four successive debacles. They believe a formidable alliance of OBCs and Muslims, stitched by Mulayam Singh Yadav, has also been weakening since the entry of Narendra Modi into national politics in 2014.

According to political analysts, Mulayam Singh Yadav's death had no direct impact on SP politics. But now Akhilesh Yadav will have to work without his father's shield, experience and guidance.

The first challenge before Akhilesh Yadav is to retain the SP bastion of Mainpuri. Recently, the SP lost two of its strongholds, Rampur and Azamgarh, in by-polls. Atul Chandra, the ex-editor of the Times of India, said, "If the SP loses the Mainpuri seats, it sends a negative message in the state that Akhilesh Yadav fails to retain the legacy of the SP founder." "Another challenge for Akhilesh Yadav is to pacify the difference with his uncle, Shivpal Yadav, to strengthen the party," Chandra added.

Mohammad Saleem, a central committee member of the CPI (ML), opined that Akhilesh Yadav's competition is tougher than his father's. "Time has changed, and now the Hindutva wave is stronger than Mulayam Singh Yadav's era."

"As many backward castes, including some Yadavs, have titled towards the BJP in recent days, now taking them back into the SP fold is necessary to diminish the saffron party," said Saleem.

"It seems that Akhilesh Yadav is fearful of Hindutva politics, and that is why he avoids speaking openly in support of Muslims." Although his father was vocal about the rights of Muslims," says Professor Ravi Kant Chandan. According to Chandan, "Akhilesh Yadav doesn't have tall leaders from other castes and sects like Mulayam Singh Yadav had Azam Khan and Beni Prasad Verma."

"The survival of the party is not possible without the presence of its leader on the ground with students, youths, farmers, etc."

"Mulayam Singh Yadav worked on grounds throughout his active political life, but Akhilesh Yadav became a drawing room leader," says Chandan. He went on to say that this political inactivity and leadership crisis would prove costly to him.

Many political commentators opine that after Mulayam Singh Yadav, the future of Akhilesh Yadav will depend on how he pacifies the Yadav family feud that emerged in 2016. Sunita Aron, the editor of Hindustan Times, says the BJP tried to win over the Yadav votes.

She went on to say that perhaps the saffron party began its mission with the Mainpuri by-elections. "It's early to comment on 2024, but if the family feud is diluted, the SP would be the prime challenger to the BJP in the next election," adding, "But it depends on how tactically he deals with his family tension."

"Akhilesh Yadav is an established politician; he has no challenge from his uncle Shivpal Yadav," says professor Ramesh Dixit.

"If the SP would be part of any larger alliance against the BJP in 2024, it would change the state's political picture." "The challenge for Akhilesh Yadav is to keep Muslim votes with the SP while also working with dalits to consolidate the marginalised sections of society," Prof. Dixit said.

However, some SP leaders also feel that besides caste politics, raising voices for the plights of farmers, youths, students, etc., is also necessary to build a strong party in the future. The SP worker says, on anonymity, "Bhaiyya (Akhilesh) is reluctant to work on the ground."

"Netaji (Mulayam) always worked on the ground and changed the political landscape of UP."

SP's eyes are on dalit votes. Party leader Abdul Hafiz Gandhi says the SP formed "Ambedkar Wahani" to work with dalits and to win their trust. According to him, the most important task for Akhilesh Yadav is to constitute district and state committees ahead of the urban local body elections expected in the last quarter of 2022.

"Like Netaji's Halla Boll, Akhilesh Yadav should also mobilise the masses on the issues of fuel price, fee hike, agrarian distress, etc.," says Gandhi. It is to be recalled here that Akhilesh Yadav's presence on roads is minimal compared to his father. Many believe that without the standing to adhere to public issues, it would be a distinct dream to come back into power for SP.

Sunil Sajan, the former SP MLC, revealed that the SP plans to expand its outreach to dalits. Sajan said that dethroning the BJP from the centre is not possible without defeating it in UP. The former MLC believes that only the SP is a formidable force in UP that could stop the BJP. However, he also said that after the demise of the party's patriarch, Akhilesh Yadav has additional work to do in contesting against the ruling dispensation to save the reservation.

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