Why both Akhilesh Yadav and Yogi Adityanath think they are front-runners in 2022 UP Assembly polls
While the SP is banking heavily on Akhilesh Yadav’s image as a young, energetic leader, the BJP under Yogi Adityanath is reaching out to the masses with his government’s development and law-and-order report cards
February 2022 is crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its mettle being severely tested in Uttar Pradesh. But the month is also crucial for the Samajwadi Party (SP) and its captain, Akhilesh Yadav, who is working hard to make a comeback in the state where the Congress is largely missing and the BSP virtually out of the reckoning.
Can Akhilesh make a comeback? What is his strategy? Going by past trends, Uttar Pradesh voters usually prefer a decisive mandate rather than a fractured vote. And indications of a tipping point usually surface pretty close to the day of voting.
Elections in India, in the contemporary context, ride primarily on three factors: Organisational strength, candidacy and campaign style. Akhilesh currently ticks all three boxes. The party cadre has deep roots within pockets of the state. He is the young, energetic face being portrayed across national and state media. And the party campaign, so far, has received a warm response. Of course, whether all this translates into votes remains to be seen.
Looking at the arithmetic, Yadavs comprise 11.42 percent of the state’s caste equation, minorities jointly add up to 19.33 percent, upper castes stand at 23.30 percent (there is a restlessness in this group which would find expression on whom they believe can provide better governance), and it would be interesting to see how the Other Backward Castes (23 percent excluding Yadavs) vote. The SP has a solid vote-bank of Muslims and Yadavs.
In his maiden stint as chief minister between 2012 and 2017, Akhilesh had a good run in the first four years, with the Lucknow Metro getting off the block, Lok Bhawan being constructed, and the Lucknow-Agra Expressway getting sorted. It was the fifth year that did him in. Inner-party dissension with his uncle, Shivpal Yadav, took centre stage. The old patriarch Mulayam Singh did intervene but it was too late. Suffice to say, an aggressive BJP nearly obliterated them.
Statistically, the BJP sits comfortably with 304 Assembly seats. The SP has 49, BSP 18, Apna Dal 9, Congress 7 and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj 4. If the SP wants to topple the BJP, it needs to get 153 more seats, which is not an easy task.
But Akhilesh is relentless and pulling no punches. Be it the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister. In a sharp attack on Yogi Adityanath, he asked a cheering crowd at an election rally in Banda if they wanted a “Yogi Sarkar or Yogya Sarkar (able government)”.
“Aap ko Yogi sarkar chahiye ya yogya sarkar chahiye (Do you need a Yogi government or an able government?),” he asked, adding: “There is politics of hate and loot, this has never happened before. Their progress is only in pictures and even in them they showed a photo of a flyover from Kolkata, industries from America; they lie even in ads. Those who show fake ads and dreams, we have to throw them out.”
While the Yogi government claims it has bulldozed and razed to the ground properties of criminals and been tough on local mafia, Akhilesh counters this by saying: “This is a government of bulldozers. But they should understand bulldozers run on roads and not on people. The people this time have the power of the vote. Itna vote ka bulldozer chalega ki Bharatiya Janata Party ka pata nahi lagega (There will be a bulldozer of votes that will sink the BJP).”
He also took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had alleged at a recent event in Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar that the Samajwadi Party has moved away from ‘samajwad’ (socialism) to ‘parivarwad’ (a family-run party). “Parivaar waale hi parivar walon ka dukh samajh sakte hain (Those who have families can understand the plight of families),” Akhilesh retorted at the Banda rally.
What is also going in Akhilesh’s favour is the fact that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) under Mayawati seems to have lost its way. Currently, pollsters are not counting her as a serious contender. The Congress too is directionless despite Priyanka Gandhi Vadra trying hard to keep the party in afloat. Most informed election watchers say that neither the BSP nor the Congress would be able to do much for now.
If that happens, a very interesting political equation would come into play. Out of the 403 Assembly seats, there is a distinct possibility of a bi-polar contest in 350 seats between the BJP and the SP. It is here that Akhilesh stands his best chance. For, anti-BJP votes stand little chance to get divided this time.
It happened in West Bengal. Will it work again in Uttar Pradesh is the million dollar question?
Taking a leaf from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh has also been on a spree of forming regional alliances. He has formed an alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar, president of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP). Rajbhar was earlier a Cabinet minister in the Yogi government but on 20 May 2019, he was sacked due to alleged anti-alliance activities.
More importantly, Akhilesh has a tie up with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), led by Jayant Chaudhary. Keeping in mind the ongoing farmers’ agitation, this alliance may help the SP. Talks are also on with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
He has also finalised an alliance with Apna Dal (Kamerawadi) leader Krishna Patel, mother of Union minister Anupriya Patel, who heads the Apna Dal (S). Krishna may get two seats in Varanasi, Rohaniya and Pindara, and will contest on the SP symbol
What makes the 2022 Assembly election interesting is that people want the campaigning to be focused on development, jobs, industry, roads and housing. So do both the BJP and the SP. While the SP is banking heavily on Akhilesh’s image as a young, energetic leader, the BJP under Yogi Adityanath is reaching out to the masses with his government’s development and law-and-order report cards. It’s likely to be a close contest, with both sides optimistic about doing well in the coming polls. Who will have the last laugh? It will be known only by February.
The writer is CEO, NNIS Media, and has an extensive background in both print and broadcast media. Views expressed are personal.
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