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To win Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav will need balance on the cycle

Now that he has won the “cycle”, Akhilesh Yadav will have to strike a fine balance — taking the party along, portraying an image of strength and renewal, and making sure his social engineering remains intact

editorials Updated: Jan 17, 2017 17:38 IST
Hindustan Times
Akhilesh Yadav,Mulayam Singh Yadav,Samajwadi Party
Akhilesh Yadav supporters celebrating outside Samajwadi Party office after election commission announced cycle symbol in Akhilesh’s favour, Lucknow, January 16.(Deepak Gupta/HT)

The family feud in the Samajwadi Party (SP) has taken a decisive turn with the Election Commission of India awarding the cycle symbol to Akhilesh Yadav. It’s a tilting of scales that gives the young chief minister a huge boost on the campaign trail ahead of next month’s assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Not only does it cement his place as the man to beat in the polls, it helps him sidestep anti-incumbency without having to give up the emotional connect and the organisational support that the SP brings with it as a key player in the state for more than two decades.

Read | Uttar Pradesh assembly elections process kicks off, notification issued for 1st phase

By winning a pitched battle with his uncles, other forces within the party, and most significantly, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh can now shed the perception that he was a weak chief minister and showcase himself as an agent of development and change.

As he now stitches together a pre-poll alliance, notably with the Congress, in order to keep the BJP in check on the back of the demonetisation decision and its decisive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Akhilesh has got a greater say at the negotiating table. The “cycle” has given him a better chance of controlling the core Yadav-Muslim vote-bank, which the SP controls, and at the same time, of reaching out to undecided voters who are unaffected by traditional caste equations.

Read | Congress confirms alliance with Samajwadi Party for UP elections

Though the pitched UP election battleground may have become relatively easier for Akhilesh to negotiate, it will by no means be easy. The fact that his supporters have started putting up posters of father and son together shows that the young chief minister does not want to be seen as a usurper. He knows it is in his best interest to not alienate Mulayam loyalists in the hinterland, where his father continues to hold sway.

Read | Akhilesh reaches out to Mulayam after bagging SP symbol

Any sign of weakness or frailty on the SP’s part will be a sign to voters, particularly Muslims who usually swing en masse against the BJP, that Akhilesh may not be the winning horse. This could lead to a shift in votes towards the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Mayawati, who already commands a sizeable portion of UP’s Dalit votes.

Akhilesh will, therefore, have to strike a fine balance — taking the party along, portraying an image of strength and renewal, and making sure his social engineering remains intact. He has succeeded so far in making the elections about himself. With the right wheels under him, he will be looking to remain in the driver’s seat.

First Published: Jan 17, 2017 17:38 IST