Uttar Pradesh

Samajwadi Party: Polarisation & prospects

Print edition : May 02, 2014

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav flanked by his son and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and party leader Azam Khan at a rally in Lucknow on March 6. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Mulayam Singh Yadav before filing his nomination for the general election at Mainpuri. He is also contesting from Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Photo: PAWAN KUMAR/REUTERS

A family outside their tent at the relief camp at Bassi Kalan in Muzaffarnagar. The fault lines in governance that aggravated the situation in Muzaffarnagar dominate public discourse. Photo: S. Subramanium

ONE refrain from the two star campaigners of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, in every campaign meeting is that no government can be formed at the Centre after the elections without the support or the participation of the S.P. They go on to exhort their supporters that if they try hard enough and ensure a sizable number of seats for the party, they would even be able to see their leader Mulayam Singh Yadav in the Prime Minister’s chair.

Evidently, this assertion and the prospects it holds out give a fillip to die-hard S.P. supporters. There is also a consensus among the party leadership as well as the rank and file that if the conditions that existed in the 2012 Assembly elections could be replicated this time, the S.P. would be a runaway victor. In that election, the S.P. won 224 of the 403 Assembly seats with a vote share of 29.16 per cent. If this result is extrapolated to the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, the party is expected to gain close to 45 seats.

But then the S.P. leadership and its workers on the ground have little doubt that the current scene is different from what existed in 2012. The Akhilesh Yadav-led government has been in power for over two years now and has the anti-incumbency factor working against it in spite of “populist” measures such as distribution of free laptops to students, educational assistance for girl children, and minority welfare schemes. The most important factor that has worked against the government and the party is the track record on the law and order front, especially in terms of controlling communal riots.

Different regions of the State have been rocked by communal conflicts in the past two years, with the Muzaffarnagar riots of August-September 2013 being the worst. Many Muslim victims of these riots are still in relief camps. The overall impact of all this has been a deep communal polarisation across the State, particularly in western Uttar Pradesh. The S.P. has indeed blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindutva associates in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar for these riots and the communal polarisation, but the fault lines of governance that aggravated the situation too remain prominently in public discourse.

The palpable impact of all this in electoral terms is a depletion of the core vote base of the S.P. Traditionally, the party has thrived on the support of a combination of the Yadav community, which is one of the Other Backward Classes (OBC), and the minority Muslims. Segments of several other smaller castes such as the OBC Kurmis and the Scheduled Caste Pasis also form the support base of the party.

The average vote share of the party in Uttar Pradesh over the past decade has been in the range of 22 to 24 per cent. In both the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the 2012 Assembly elections, the party garnered some votes from upper-caste communities such as the Thakurs. In a significant shift, Brahmins too voted massively in favour of the S.P. in 2012. This increased its vote share by about 6 per cent from the 23.26 per cent the party had won in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in 23 seats.

In the current atmosphere of communal polarisation, there is little doubt that the upper-caste segments which supported the S.P. in 2009 and 2012 have moved away from it. But the more important question for the party this time is the apparent communal shift even in its Yadav community vote. Large segments of Muslims are still rooting for the party, but their voting pattern will certainly not be driven by blind allegiance to the S.P. or its leadership. The Muslim vote will be tactically directed to the party or the candidate that is most likely to pose a challenge to the BJP.

The S.P. leadership indeed realises this context and its import. Mulayam’s decision to contest from both his traditional seat of Mainpuri and Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh is a clear pointer to this realisation. Party insiders aver that there is communal polarisation among Yadavs across the State, and the party president directly contesting seats in central and eastern Uttar Pradesh is part of an attempt to stem this trend. Apart from this, the party has adopted the tactic of trying to exploit to its advantage the dissidence in the BJP in several parts of the State over seat allocation. As part of this strategy, many prominent local BJP leaders have been admitted to the S.P., including former Union Minister Ashok Pradhan and former MLA Prem Prakash Tiwari.

Apart from Mulayam Singh Yadav, the prominent party candidates are Nahid Hasan in Kairana, Dr S.T. Hasan in Moradabad, Akshay Yadav in Firozabad, Dharmendra Yadav in Badaun, Kunwar Sarvraj Singh in Aonla, Reoti Raman Singh in Allahabad and Akhilesh Yadav’s wife, Dimple, in Kannauj.

The S.P. is contesting seats in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh too by fielding candidates in 25 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the former and 20 of the 40 in the latter. In earlier elections, the party had garnered approximately 1 per cent of the votes in Maharashtra and 1.75 per cent of the votes in Madhya Pradesh. Despite this, the S.P. leadership is hopeful that some of its candidates in these States will make a mark individually in some constituencies.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

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