Its candidates kept the party flag flying in the central districts Etawah, Mainpuri, Unnao and Kanauj, and in Lakhimpuri of Rohillakhand region – areas which have over the years turned into SP strongholds.
Within two years, SP made a comeback, emerging the largest player in the 2009 general elections, bagging 22 Lok Sabha seats. Its candidates surged past political rivals in 118 assembly segments, though in terms of voting percentage, BSP remained number 1, polling 27.52% votes.
As the next round of electoral battle approaches, SP, by all indications, is closing in on BSP. If BSP emerged the biggest beneficiary of the anti-incumbency against the Mulayam Singh Yadav government five years ago, it is SP’s turn to reap the benefit this time.
Led by a young and energetic, yet unassuming, Akhilesh Yadav, who has won several new admirers by refusing to induct mafia dons and history-sheeters in his party, SP has positioned itself as a serious challenger to BSP in UP.
Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son, who is presently criss-crossing the state as part of his Kranti Rath Yatra, is showing signs of emerging from his father’s shadow. “Looking at the strategy and style of Akhilesh Yadav, clearly, it may be suggested that he represents great continuity with some significant changes.
For instance, he continues to maintain the party’s orientation as a local, unitbased political formation which is out in the streets at regular intervals,’’ argues Prof Anand Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU.
“On the other hand, he tries to be a bit different on the challenges of criminalisation of politics, promotion of caste-based social alliances and the need for reviewing the policies of socialists towards computerisation and English language.’’
What gives strength to SP’s challenge is a captive vote-bank in the form of Yadavs, who not just comprise 11-12% of the electorate in UP, but are scattered all over, even though their concentration is less in the western region.
Districts such as Etawah, Mainpuri, Unnao, Ferozabad, Kanauj, Budayun, Ghazipur, Azamgarh, Jaunpur, Mau, Moradabad (Sambhal) and Jhansi have a thick presence of Yadavs, bestowing a distinct edge to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s outfit.
Even in 2007, when BSP’s elephant trampled over its rivals all across the state, SP was able to withstand the onslaught in these districts. It swept Mainpuri by winning all four assembly segments, and was ahead of its opponents in Etawah, Kannauj, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Unnao and Lakhimpur.
In districts such as Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Siddharthnagar, Deoria, Banda, Bareilly and Moradabad, its candidates gave a tough fight to adversaries.
In the 2009 general election, SP had to pay a heavy price for its decision to embrace former chief minister Kalyan Singh, who was the UP chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished, with large chunks of its Muslim support-base switching allegiance.
The Mulayam-Akhilesh duo is now going all out to win back their support. If Muslims decide to vote for SP, it can be expected to fare much better in areas in which the Muslim-Yadav combine becomes a winning combination.
“In these areas, SP can be expected to project itself as the largest recepient of the anti-BSP vote,’’ argued a political observer from the state, who did not wish to be identified. “Vis-à-vis BSP, SP has the advantage of being the most visible and consistent opposition party to the present state government. So, the advantage of anti-incumbency will go in its favour.
As compared to the other two contenders, Congress and BJP, it (the SP) has the advantage of organisational and social strength. It is mosty-clearly embedded with OBCs and minorities, with a rural bias. It also has the clarity of inner linkages between the leadership and rank and file,’’ Prof Kumar maintained.
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