Akhilesh Yadav, the young Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has once again set his sight on the much coveted post. This is in spite of the bedlam that has rocked his family and the party. He seems to be of the firm belief that his personal image of an incorruptible task-master will compel people to once again choose him.
There is element of truth in this. There is no doubt that he does not trigger any negative perception among people. It is very common for someone here to criticise SP, but whether they opt to vote for the party or not, none of them thinks of foul-mouthing the Chief Minister. And this is precisely what has emboldened him to dream for a continuous second term at the helm.
Akhilesh has emerged as an icon for youths in Uttar Pradesh. This fact is conceded even by his detractors, of which there are not many. The participation of youths in electoral politics has increased manifolds, and Akhilesh’s personal image has helped mend the party’s too. What was once considered a boorish party indulging purely in identity politics is increasingly being seen as a party that walks the talk regarding development. And this is consistent across both rural and urban constituencies.
But this was not achieved overnight. Akhilesh Yadav decided halfway through his tenure that development will be his main mantra. And he has stuck to that. This has paid dividends. This is precisely why Akhilesh looks so confident going into 2017 polls. However, there is many a miss between the cup and the lip.
A lot will depend upon how much breathing space he’ll be allowed by his father and uncles in controlling the party. A lot will also depend on perceptions. If Mulayam continues to side with his brother Shivpal over his son, this will send a bad signal to the electorate. It is also important that Akhilesh has the final say in the selection of the candidates. Failing which, Samajwadi Party can bid adieu to any prospect of returning to power.
It is not that Akhilesh is unaware of such pitfalls. It is not for nothing that he has started to pitch himself as the face of the party. And this does not stop here. Apart from the traditional SP vote bank—Yadavs and Muslims—Akhilesh has also started luring youths and female voters from other castes and groups.
It is a well-known convention that Muslims in Uttar Pradesh prefer SP over Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), provided SP remains a front-runner in defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The plank had succeeded in the last election when he successfully edged out Mayawati to win the crown. He is playing the same cards once again by targeting BJP and Mayawati in his every speech.
A pattern seems to have been appearing. Instead of messing himself in the intra-party squabble, Akhilesh spends the day inaugurating some developmental project or other; following which a speech is made targeting Mayawati as casteist and BJP as communal. He also rubs in the problem faced because of the demonetisation. And he has started to find traction.
All this has made Uttar Pradesh polls a four-cornered fight. While Samajwadi Party is in power, it will be imprudent to underestimate the power of BSP. The BJP is presently at the third spot. However, it is riding on the Narendra Modi wave, which, although plateaued, is still quite high. The Congress-JD(U)-RLD alliance makes for the fourth corner of this battle.
The grand coalition of the big parties appears to be weak in the absence of either SP or BSP in it. The other coalition taking shape is of smaller parties, which will also be ineffective. Ashutosh Mishra, noted political analyst with Lucknow University, says, “The election is a do or die moment for the big three parties i.e SP, BSP and BJP. The same has been admitted by Mulayam Singh as well, who maintained that it will be impossible for the SP to form a government again in the state if they lose it this time around. The same goes for BJP. If Modi wave can’t bring BJP home, I am not sure what will. BSP is trying to cash in on anti-incumbency. Failing which, the wait will be excruciatingly long.”
Clearly, the relevance is not lost on Mayawati, who has started her campaign well in advance and is also trying to cash in on the disastrous implementation of demonetisation. In between, she targets Akhilesh government over deteriorating law and order in the state. She has also referred to Akhilesh with the mocking moniker “Babua.”
While Congress leaders are not that vicious in their attacks, they also seem follow Prashant Kishore’s strategy to target BSP and BJP primarily. The BJP on the other hand is trying to claw into SP, BSP and Congress’ vote banks. Akhilesh is keenly watching the strategy of all the three parties and is adjusting his crosshairs accordingly. His every step is well considered and firm. There is no scope for a misstep this time around, and no one knows it better than the Chief Minister himself.
While his party has declared candidates for as many as 200 seats, he has kept the door open for a possible alliance with the Congress Party. There is a lot happening between SP and Congress behind closed doors. An announcement to this regard is expected soon.
SP spokesperson Rajendar Chaudhary is non-committal over any possible alliance with the Congress. He, however, insists that all the preparations related to electioneering have been completed. Banners, posters, hoardings, slogans and songs have all been finalised. Cadres have been assigned duties. Chaudhary reiterates Mulayam’s adage that it is cadres who win elections for the party.
Spirited cadres indeed make a difference. And this spirit comes when they feel direct connection with big leaders of the party. Mulayam Singh has categorically asked every MP, MLA and even the Chief Minister to listen to suggestions of cadres. Chaudhary meanwhile insists that like in the past, the party will depend heavily on Mulayam Singh for a spirited political campaign. Akhilesh Yadav will also campaign on his “Vikas Rath” and riding the chopper.
It is expected that while Mulayam Singh will pander to the traditional voters; Akhilesh will focus on weaning away more and more youths through the developmental plank. Mandir-Masjid or caste identity politics will be missing from Akhilesh’s speech, like the previous time. Instead, problems that people are facing because of demonetisation will be the core issue.
Akhilesh knows Mayawati will attack him on law and order and issues of mismanagement, and has already prepared a thorough list of developmental works done by his government. He has distributed this list among the cadres.
SP is also riding the social media, which till recently was BJP’s hallmark. The team is already active in countering allegations by opposition parties. A campaign named ‘I Support Akhilesh,’ which presents Akhilesh Yadav as a brand, is already started to find traction among the youths. TV and other traditional medium are also being used. There are clear indications that even the atrophied old guard has grudgingly agreed that their faces are sagging with age and has no youth appeal. Unless the vindictive Shivpal does some self-ruining backstabbing of bhatija Akhilesh, he is poised to become SP’s sole brand maker.
Akhilesh knows all too well that anti-incumbency will also play out. However, he has not come up with any concrete plans to counter this. Spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary, however, insists that the party has fulfilled most of the 2012 campaign commitments. He adds that it is BJP that will be facing anti-incumbency for bumping on the failed promises it made in the General Elections 2014.
With inputs from SANJAY
The chessboard has spread out and the parties are trying to win voters in whatever ways possible. Every party has a caste-religion combination in mind, and is working hard to gain maximum from that front. Muslims, who form 19 per cent of the electorate in the state, is among the primary vote bank up for grabs. Traditionally, the community has voted en masse for any party that is in a position to defeat BJP.
Naturally, both SP and BSP are trying their best to win Muslim votes. The BSP is particularly aggressive in presenting itself as a pro-Muslim party. This has put SP off track. For the first time in several years, they are not taking Muslim votes for granted and is going to every madrasa and mazar that fall in their campaign path.
SP has approached as many as 10,000 madrasas and over 150 big mazars trying to explain the work it has done for the community. Akhilesh Yadav is of the belief that the message of “You can trust us” will have more potency if it is presented with a list of works done for the community. Akhilesh is pretty confident that no one can dent into its Muslim-Yadav vote collage.
The BSP is not far behind though. It has come out with a booklet called ‘Who is the real benefactor of Muslims,’ which explains in rather detail how BSP has done more for the community, whereas SP has failed miserably in walking the talk. The party is distributing this booklet in every nook and corner of the state.
The bilingual booklet in Hindi and Urdu also explicitly states that it is SP that has strengthened BJP in the state. It also insists that the Dalit-Muslim combination can effectively contain BJP in the state.
SP, on the other hand, has come up with a magazine called “Nayi Umang, Naya Savera” countering the allegations heaped by BSP. The magazine insists that Mulayam Singh Yadav Study Centre, which was established to train Muslim students for competitive exams, has started showing results. Twenty-eight students from the first batch of 39 got through one exam or other. The magazine also carries an interview with the incumbent CM, where he insists that that amount of work done for the community in last 5 years surpasses everything that has been done in the last two decades combined.
Jafaryab Jilani, Additional Advocate General, insists that with the help of state government as many as 5,000 youths have been released from wrongful confinement. Other doles such as Handicraft-Weaving Pension Scheme, establishment of Urdu Academy, expansion in the facility provided to Haj travellers, inauguration of the one-stop-all-facilities Haj House in Ghaziabad, construction of walls around 8,000 cemeteries, increase in grants for madrasas, etc., are some of the steps that are being propagandised.
To sweeten all this up, the cover of the magazine has a photo of the CM in the traditional Muslim cap, while there’s another photo inside showing CM’s visit to an important mazar. This magazine will be distributed to almost 10,000 madrasas and 150 big mazars all over the state. The head of these institutions in turn have been asked to spread the magazine further. And the moon and crescent seems to be listening.