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Akhilesh Yadav’s re-election as SP chief offers hope for non-BJP forces in UP

Akhilesh Yadav has the opportunity to rebuild the Samajwadi Party in his image and make it his party. This may not pay immediate dividends, but as the saying goes, the road to power in Delhi lies through Lucknow

opinion Updated: Oct 12, 2017 11:17 IST
Samajwadi Party,Akhilesh Yadav,Uttar Pradesh
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav with senior party leaders during the party's 8th state convention at Ramabai Maidan in Lucknow, India, on Saturday, September 23, 2017. (Photo by / Hindustan Times)(Subhankar Chakraborty/HT)

Any suggestion of a fresh churning in the politics of Uttar Pradesh might appear premature in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections after the BJP’s sweeping victory in the 2017 assembly elections, but the re-election of former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav as the president of the Samajwadi Party that the BJP displaced and his announcement that the SP-Congress alliance would continue could set the stage for such an eventuality.

The objective condition for a possible reconfiguration of social groups is being created by the ruling BJP dispensation under chief minister Yogi Adityanath by prioritising a hawkish agenda in the place of the inclusive development promised during the run-up to the assembly elections.

This has deepened fears about the BJP’s real intent among the minorities that comprise a substantial and politically articulate chunk of the state electorate. It has also started the alienation of the Dalits and most backward castes in the state that formed the bedrock of the BJP’s 2017 victory.

In this scenario of flux — Uttar Pradesh has never backed the same party to power in two consecutive elections during the last 40 years — Akhilesh could just emerge as the rallying point for the non-BJP forces in India’s most populous state that had elected 73 BJP members of the Lok Sabha, including Narendra Modi in 2014.

Akhilesh has quite a distance to traverse before he can emerge as the undisputed point man for an anti-BJP consolidation. His first hurdle is the rifts within his own party. This was underlined by the fact that his estranged father, Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shiv Pal Yadav, had skipped the party’s Agra conclave on October 5 that re-elected him as the party head. Akhilesh realises this. To assuage their frayed tempers, he had gone personally to invite Mulayam for the Agra meet and called on him immediately after his re-election. He also ensured that there were no derogatory references to Shiv Pal.

If the political grapevine is to be believed, there are signs of some thaw in the father-son relations. Only last month Mulayam had hurriedly called a press conference, apparently to announce a new party and the breaking of ranks with the SP, but he changed his mind at the last minute and refused to read from the prepared text.

Mulayam’s silence over his son’s re-election as the SP chief for a term of five years is not without significance in this backdrop. A prominent supporter of Mulayam, Azam Khan has switched over to Akhilesh’s side.

He has already succeeded in wiping out the perception of being a political novice and dissociated himself from those seen to be associated with corruption and lawlessness . His image as a moderniser has been strengthened, thanks to high-profile infrastructure projects like the Agra-Lucknow Expressway and the Lucknow Metro during his stint as CM.

Akhilesh now has the opportunity to rebuild the party according to his own specifications. This may not pay immediate dividends in the next general election, but as the saying goes, the road to power in Delhi lies through Lucknow.

The only other viable contender for political power in Uttar Pradesh is already in political trouble. The BSP’s Dalit support-base is fragmenting and most of Mayawati’s trusted aides have deserted her.

If Akhilesh Yadav can rebuild the Samajwadi Party to give a tough fight to the BJP in 2019, his chances of challenging the BJP in the 2022 state assembly elections will brighten. With UP in control, he can be a potential frontrunner to lead the non-BJP consolidation in the 2024 general elections. It’s a long road ahead, but age is on his side.

Yogesh Vajpeyi is a senior journalist

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 11, 2017 15:24 IST