In run-up to UP polls, several leaders switch loyalties to Samajwadi Party
The Samajwadi Party (SP) claims it has the momentum ahead of the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh as leaders from all other parties are making a beeline to join it. It cites new-inductees from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Trinamool Congress, to buttress it's claim.
SP organised March’s first induction ceremony welcoming leaders from other parties at the SP headquarters in Lucknow. Before that, the previous month saw six such occasions, three of them on successive days — February 19, 20, and 21.
It started with some BSP veterans joining SP in August 2019, a few months after the collapse of the SP-BSP alliance, following the Lok Sabha poll debacle for the two partners. Former BSP minister Ghura Ram, who had been with the party since its inception in 1984, was the first major leader to switch loyalties to the SP in August 2019. Within a fortnight, 17 BSP leaders from Pratapgarh joined the Akhilesh Yadav-led party. Then, former BSP state president Dayaram Pal and ex-Ballia district chief Mithailal Bharati followed suit. In October 2019, former Mau BSP district president Ashok Gautam crossed over to the SP. Former minister Kamlakant Gautam, who quit the BSP after its poor show in the 2017 assembly polls, merged his Rashtriya Bahujan Utthan Party with the SP this month. Ghura Ram died of Covid-19 in July 2020, but the trend continues.
The day after Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati’s 65th birthday, BSP's Meerut mayor Sunita Verma, her husband Yogesh Verma (former BSP MLA from Hastinapur and ex-minister) joined the SP on January 16, along with former BSP MLA from Bareilly Vijay Pal Singh. The other entrants included former BSP MLA from Thakurdwara (Moradabad) Vijay Yadav, former UP minister Awadhesh Verma and former BSP MP from Lakhimpur Dawood Ahmed.
Before the Covid induced lockdown, it was only BSP veterans who were joining SP. Post lockdown, other party leaders have also moved to the party.
"It's quite understandable why the trend emerged and became so prominent. The state is getting into the poll mode. Such times are the best for party-hoppers to switch loyalties, find suitable placements. The trend is in favour of the Samajwadi Party because it is the only party that is looking like a challenger to the ruling BJP. The Congress is not visible beyond one or two of their Delhi leaders. The BSP has been in a steady decline and smaller parties are looking for an ally in the SP," said Professor SK Dwivedi, an expert on political affairs.
In October, five-time MP and former Union minister Saleem Sherwani switched over to the SP from the Congress. This happened soon after former Congress MP Anu Tandon and former MP RK Chaudhary joined the SP. Chaudhary, a BSP founder member, had earlier changed sides to the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP camp, too, is not untouched by the trend. In January, former BJP MLA from Mirzapur, Ram Bharti and Gorakhpur's RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) pracharak Vineet Shukla, joined the SP. At their induction ceremony, Akhilesh Yadav said: "The trend shows who is going to form the government in 2022. We will continue to embrace people from other parties without discrimination. They are coming to strengthen the party and make SP win the polls."
In the last 12 months, SP has held over two dozen joining ceremonies. Party chief Akhilesh Yadav anchors all such events that are held with much fanfare, accompanied by bands playing outside the Lucknow party headquarters gate.
The entire Vikramaditya Marg, where the party office is located, is replete with hoardings of the new entrants. They give mementos such as crowns, photo frames, idols and replicas of the SP symbol bicycle to Yadav who, in turn, hands the SP's red caps to them.