The events that have unfolded in the Samajwadi Party (SP) since Saturday — with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav pulling off a coup on Sunday in Lucknow to wrest control of the party from the old guard led by his father and party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav — have thrown up a number of political opportunities and threats for the BJP that is hoping to form a government in Uttar Pradesh.
The upheaval in the SP comes so close to the assembly elections due early this year that it has not just the ruling party in the state but other aspirants to the seat of power worried, experts say.
“Suddenly, Akhilesh Yadav is in sharp public focus and this time as a leader taking control of his party rather than as a weak CM two years ago. This should worry the BJP,” says AK Verma from the Centre for Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.
“Even the anti-incumbency against his government has been pushed to the background,” concedes a BJP general secretary. “But whether the SP splits or not will not affect us drastically.”
Party leaders who are closely watching the developments, however, say a weak SP will harm the BJP’s prospects.
For the BJP, which won an impressive 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014, work on winning UP started even before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Amit Shah, who is now party president because of his emphatic turnaround record in the state, was made general secretary in-charge of the state and Narendra Modi moved to contest the Lok Sabha poll from Varanasi. The party resorted to what Verma calls competitive social engineering, reaching out to communities — from the most backward castes to the Dalits and the non-Yadav OBCs.
A victory for the party in UP will not just bring electoral gains, it will also showcase it as a stamp of people’s approval on two-and-a-half years of the Modi government and its policies, including demonetisation and its aftereffects.
The BJP’s calculations say a weak SP will mean Muslim votes shifting to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Akhilesh emerging stronger will open the possibility of a grand alliance on the lines of the one in Bihar.
“Amit Shah had cleverly pitched the BJP against the SP and tried to downplay the BSP’s role as a challenger. A weak SP will force us to fight the BSP as our number one opponent,” says a senior leader.
The state will put the party’s social engineering formula to test.
“The BJP is moving towards a constituency transformation. It has decided to expand its base at the cost of its traditional voter and the UP election will put this to test,” explains Verma.