Elections in Uttar Pradesh are eight months away and Akhilesh Yadav is putting in long hours at Samajwadi Party office in Lucknow, meeting party cadre and potential ticket-seekers, and quietly drawing up his strategy for arguably the biggest political battle of his life in UP in 2022.
News18 spoke to a number of SP leaders, including MLAs and those close to Akhilesh to figure out how the party is planning for the upcoming polls.
Leaders close to Akhilesh say much has been sorted out for the Samajwadi Party since the last election which turned out to a disastrous outing. One, the unity in the family is somewhat back in order with Akhilesh’s uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav not in the same damage mode as in 2017. Two, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has self-imploded, that Samajwadi Party plans to project it as a signal to Muslims that BSP is in no position to beat BJP.
Three, the party plans to harp on the “palpable anger among people over mishandling of the Covid-19 situation by BJP as well as Thakurvaad politics of BJP in UP”, said a leader in the Akhilesh camp. Four, in 2017, Akhilesh made the entire election about his development model with the slogan Kaam Bolta Hai but his focus this time will be on how CM Yogi Adityanath has not been able to deliver any concrete development project.
Five, and most importantly, Akhilesh has decided it is not the time to go for any big-ticket alliance like earlier with the BSP and Congress, but focus on its own strength of party organization, and ally with smaller parties to get the caste calculations right. In fact, the party feels that core voters of BSP who voted for SP symbol in the 2019 elections given the alliance, shed their hesitancy of two decades to do so and some may again vote for SP in 2022.
Akhilesh: A Lazy Politician?
The biggest grouse that the Akhilesh camp has is that the ‘Delhi media’ is out to paint him as a lazy politician who never leaves his home and does not go to the ground. “If that was so, how would SP perform so well in the recent Panchayat elections? Akhilesh did a Kisan Yatra and a Cycle Yatra in past months that covered over 40 districts but the media does not cover it adequately and then says he is not to be seen,” a SP leader told News18.
The second wave did keep him indoors after he contracted Covid but those close to Akhilesh say he utilized this time to complete his “homework on each of the 403 seats” and study the updated dynamics of each to factor in probable candidates and caste permutations. “How many party presidents sit daily in the party office for hours? Akhilesh is at the party office daily when in Lucknow. It is just that media does not see it,” another leader said.
Akhilesh may in fact hit the campaign mode from August and slowly escalate it, with one leader saying the party “does not want to peak too soon” and it would take Akhilesh about two months to cover the entire state. “He can campaign on the cycle, on the car and on the chopper. But BJP cannot campaign on the cycle. That is our USP,” the leader said. UP’s cyclic political history of voting out the incumbent gives the SP more hope.
SP Sees Early Positive Signals
The Akhilesh camp sees some early positive signs. One is the former CM’s uncle, Shivpal Singh Yadav, being far less combative and Akhilesh not asking for Singh to merge his party with the SP. In an interview earlier this week, Akhilesh in fact said he would work with Shivpal’s party and not put up a candidate against him in Jaswantnagar and possibly also some of his aides.
“It is possible that Shivpal may also be made a Minister if we win and few of his winning MLAs may be adjusted too. Shivpal’s main grouse in 2017 was what would happen of his personal stature after being removed as state party president. But this time, he realizes what voters are telling him that chacha aapas ki ladai bahut ho gayi, ab yeh badi ladia BJP se hai (he should let the matter rest as we have to fight the BJP),” a SP leader said.
Another positive sign that SP cites are divisions inside the BJP camp and the social coalition that BJP drew up in the last election not being as effective now. “In the last election, BJP had five faces from different castes as CM probables but this time their one face (Yogi Adityanath) is clear. They have to defend his image and efficiency,” a leader said. SP feels cadre of the other castes in BJP feels slighted under this regime and some may jump ship to SP as BJP has nearly 320 sitting MLAs to satisfy with tickets.
A hint is also from the UP bureaucracy, one leader said, citing how jailed SP leader Azam Khan was allowed to get admitted to Medanta, a private hospital on his own expense, though jail rules specify that an inmate can only be treated in a government hospital. “The bureaucracy has become more amenable to the opposition knowing polls are near,” a SP leader said.
A big challenge that Samajwadi Party however still faces is its baggage of lawlessness in the earlier regime that was also marked by communal strife and issues of corruption on which BJP opened probes after coming to power. Yogi Adityanath has not faced any allegation of corruption and claims to have cracked down on organized crime in UP with a heavy hand.
What is however clear to all is that UP in 2022 is a two-horse race between the BJP and the SP. They only have each other to look over their shoulder.