Keeping up with UP | SP out to counter BJP with their new temple town hero - Hindustan Times
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Keeping up with UP | SP out to counter BJP with their new temple town hero

BySunita Aron
Jun 23, 2024 12:44 AM IST

Awadhesh Prasad won from Faizabad-Ayodhya after addressing local issues, overshadowing the BJP's focus on the temple.

After the consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) wanted to ride a ‘temple wave’ in the 2024 general elections.

The poll scenario began changing positively for Congress-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh once Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav decided to contest the 2024 poll and the alliance won 43 of 80 UP seats. (HT FILE)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
The poll scenario began changing positively for Congress-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh once Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav decided to contest the 2024 poll and the alliance won 43 of 80 UP seats. (HT FILE)(HT_PRINT)

But, the party’s efforts did not lead to a favourable outcome in the temple town, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow and visits of several dignitaries during the polling months. Even President Droupadi Murmu paid her obeisance to Lord Ram at Ayodhya temple on May 2, ahead of the polling in the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat on May 20, 2024.

Throwing cold water on BJP's confidence and campaigning, the veteran Samajwadi Party candidate Awadhesh Prasad, a nine-time MLA, won the seat on the slogan of 'Na Mathura, Na Kashi, Abki Baar Awadhesh Pasi' (Roughly: Not Mathura, or Kashi, this time Awadhesh Prasad).

Interestingly, the party's president Akhilesh Yadav had declared Prasad a member of Parliament in his campaign speech at Faizabad. When the candidate himself had pointed out that he was still an MLA, Akhilesh had said “I already know you are an MP”.

That was the party’s confidence in winning the tough seat. The SP had done its homework before taking a serious plunge in Faizabad. Prasad himself is an experienced contestant having fought 14 (13 state assembly and 1 Lok Sabha) elections till 2024. This was his 15th battle of ballots.

The low-profile Prasad has emerged as the new hero in the state, attracting the limelight wherever he goes. People gather around him and ask for selfies. And now, he is going to raise utmost curiosity in Parliament.

Prasad will be occupying the second line of the Lok Sabha benches, if not the front, when it will meet on June 24. And, he has a lot to talk about, from the suffering of the locals due to alleged corruption and delayed compensation for their acquired lands, houses and shops. He is also raising the issue of outsiders in Faizabad, as locals complained that many involved in construction and other business activities were from other states. This created resentment among the locals.

Nonetheless, the SP's win in Ayodhya will be raised to embarrass the Narendra Modi-led government in the Lok Sabha. Thankfully for the party, the actor who essayed the role of Lord Ram survived the onslaught of another Dalit leader from the Samajwadi Party. BJP’s Arun Govil scraped through the Meerut seat, winning by a slender margin of about 10,585 votes.

Notably, the BJP will corner the SP leadership on the issue of dynastic politics as the husband-wife couple, Akhilesh Yadav and Dimple Yadav, besides three family members were elected to the Lok Sabha. Yadav has been responding to the BJP's tirade against him, saying, “Who stops them from promoting their parivar?” The SP has also prepared a list of dynasts adopted by the BJP from other political parties besides their homegrown ones.

Yadav seems to be preparing to raise public issues and not leave this opportunity to make a mark. He will be working closely with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the chemistry between them will be seen on the floor of the House.

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s legacy

This is the first time that SP has won 37 seats and emerged as the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha after the BJP and the Congress. So far, their highest tally has been 35 in the 2004 elections when the party had aimed to make the SP’s founder-president Mulayam Singh Yadav the PM. Yadav always nurtured a dream that the party would obtain a national status.

He often used to say, “I founded the party when no one was standing with me,” referring to the early 1990s when the Uttar Pradesh police opened fire on irate Kar Sewaks as they pushed to destroy the disputed Babri masjid structure. Later, Yadav told me how he used to spend the winters sitting all alone at home as even his friends had abandoned him.

While spending days in solitude, he decided to form his own party of socialist leaders, who by then had split into several parties. He was a member of Lok Dal (People's Party) in Uttar Pradesh, which became a part of the Janata Dal (People's Party) afterwards. When the Lok Dal party split, Yadav launched the Krantikari Morcha party.

In 1992, the SP was born. After losing three elections, the public started raising question marks on Mulayam's decision to hand over his legacy to his young son. The 2024 elections have silenced those voices.

Party leaders are confident their party will also get a national status soon as it requires a different strategy. They have cultivated supporters in some states which also have a substantial Yadav-Muslim vote. But it's now the Pichde Dalit Alpasankhyak formula which will get them votes in the six states required to get the national status.

Sunita Aron is a consulting editor with the HT based in Lucknow. You can find her on X as @overto. The weekly column, Keeping up with UP tackles everything from politics to social and cultural mores in the country's most populous state. The views expressed are personal.

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