In what is being seen as the first makeover of the party’s image ahead of the 2017 assembly elections, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has started unrolling a blueprint that he was crafting over the past few months.
Saturday’s reshuffle in Uttar Pradesh’s council of ministers is likely to be followed by a massive shake-up in the state bureaucracy and party machinery, an exercise that has been pending since the Samajwadi Party’s rout in last year’s Lok Sabha polls.
Even now, while many were expecting changes after the Bihar election results, the SP high command has decided to go ahead with cleaning house as it was getting strong signals in favour of the chief minister Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance from the neighbouring state.
The move has also denied the BJP from going on a poaching spree. Many of its leaders were in touch with SP ministers and were planning to drop a bombshell after conquering Bihar.
Apparently, the SP high command picked up two lessons from poll-busy Bihar. One, voters are more amenable to the party with a declared chief ministerial nominee. Second, the caste card works better if combined with a leader’s personal image. Holding the grand alliance in good stead so far has been Nitish’s image of probity and performance along with RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s Yadav vote bank.
Mulayam knows that while the BJP lacks a credible face in the state — Narendra Modi’s popularity eventually may not help in the state elections — Mayawati’s image of an able administrator is still keeping the BSP in the reckoning apart from the voters’ strong desire for change every five years.
A senior journalist from Delhi recently said, “I will bet on Mayawati. She will form the next government with or without crutches. Akhilesh is a good guy, but people want a more assertive leader.”
Mulayam also knows that while he was the face of the party in the 2012 assembly elections, it is his son, Akhilesh, who will be pitted against Mayawati or Modi in 2017.
Thus, the need to build up his son’s image of a “ruler” who runs the government independent of his father and uncles— to wipe out the only charge against Akhilesh since he took over in mid-2012.