Samajwadis slow off the blocks in the run-up to U.P. polls

With RLD and PSP alliances yet to be firmed up and confused messages, Akhilesh Yadav faces an uphill battle

A fawning biography of party president Akhilesh Yadav followed by the launch of a new ‘Samajwadi’ perfume, described as ‘scent of socialism’, projected Mr. Yadav as a progressive leader with a focus on development and youth, but ground reports suggest that, so far, the party has not been able to amplify the issues that the BJP had given it on a platter.

The perfume, prepared in Kannauj, may have a mix of 22 fragrances, but the party is yet to arrive at an amalgamation of its alliance partners to take on the BJP that is feeling resurgent after the repeal of farm laws.

Big announcements were expected on patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s birthday on Monday but Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Singh didn’t even tweet birthday wishes to the three-time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh who counts Chaudhary Charan Singh as his mentor.

Uncle Shivpal Yadav, president of the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (PSP), who was expected to share the stage with his elder brother at a public event in Lucknow, chose to celebrate Netaji’s birthday in Saifai, the Yadavs’ fiefdom.

Mr. Yadav chose to cut the cake with Ram Gopal Yadav, his elder uncle, who shared a tumultuous relationship with Mr. Shivpal. It was only in the evening that Mr. Shivpal paid a visit to Netaji, as the SP patron is popularly called, at his residence and wished him.

Missing the moment

Observers find it ironic that the BJP had given multiple issues to the Opposition but the party that was best placed to seize the opportunity has not been quick on the uptake. More than the rallies, they say, Samajwadis should be seen protesting on streets and collectorates and making inroads into the non-Yadav OBCs, the strong point of the BJP.

Instead, Mr. Yadav has come across as a leader who fuels vaccine hesitancy and brings back Jinnah to the political narrative to counter Asaduddin Owaisi who is making his presence felt in the region.

The SP’s proactive prospective alliance partners describe Mr. Yadav as a slow starter in a crucial election. A senior leader of the RLD, requesting anonymity, said by the time Akhilesh started his Vijay Rath (Yatra), “the RLD had covered two chapters of the election syllabus. We feel the farms laws are being repealed because of RLD’s groundwork and SP should respect this fact.”

Sources said while RLD was asking for 60 seats in western U.P., the SP was not ready to give more than 25.

Things are not too different with Mr. Shivpal’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (PSP) either. Dr. Rakshpal Singh, vice-president of the PSP, after long innings with the Aligarh unit of SP, said PSP was keen for an alliance and even open for merger with the SP but not at the cost of dignity.

“Though Shivapalji has developed the PSP network across the State, both parties have realised that they are not complete without each other. In the last two or three years, Akhilesh has missed the acumen of his uncle in running the organisation,” Dr. Singh said. Sources said talks had started with Mr. Shivpal asking for 75 seats, one in each district, but now things have come down on selecting winnable candidates in the PSP.

Observers say Mr. Yadav can’t milk his father’s legacy any more and the delay in declaring the alliance will only increase the bargaining power of the prospective partners.

Mirza Asmer Beg, professor of political science in Aligarh Muslim University said if Mr. Yadav felt that the anger against the BJP government was so strong that people will automatically walk to his side, he was mistaken. “There is anger but there is a strong TINA (there is no alternative) factor as well. There was clear mismanagement of COVID but SP can’t say much because its leadership was also missing from the ground. There is farm distress and inflation but the party has yet to come out with its manifesto. Local Muslim leaders are being pushed out of photo ops but remarks on Jinnah are being defended. There is no harm in admitting mistakes and moving on.”

Like Rahul Gandhi, Prof. Beg pointed out that Mr. Yadav seemed to be struggling to find his feet between the old and the new guard.

‘He addressed the youth’

Dr .Sheeba Khalid, sociologist and author of I am Akhilesh, said nobody could deny that Mr. Yadav had addressed the youth, professed an agenda for development, and sought to rise above the divisions of caste and religion.

“There was a time when the SP was called a party of goons. Mr. Yadav has worked hard to change this image by distributing laptops and investing in infrastructure projects,” she said.

With the PM revoking the farm laws, he has to find yet another aroma to keep what BJP’ calls ‘nationalist’ farmers in the fold.

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