Voters Warn Akhilesh Yadav – But is he Listening?
Sharp drop from March assembly to June parliament results
The Samajwadi party decisively lost two Lok Sabha seats, Azamgarh and Rampur, to the BJP in the bypolls, reducing the party's strength in the Lok Sabha to three – the lowest since it first contested a general election in 1996, four years after its inception in 1992.
The humiliating defeat in its two bastions comes just months after the SP won all ten assembly segments in Azamgarh and three of the five assembly seats in the Rampur district.
The recent defeat provoked All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi to charge the SP with having neither the quwwat (energy) nor qaabliyat (capability) to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The two by-elections were necessitated when party president Akhilesh Yadav decided to switch over to state politics by becoming the Leader of Opposition retaining his Vidhan Sabha seat from Karhal in Mainpuri.
Similarly, Mohammad Azam Khan, a founding member of the SP also quit his Lok Sabha seat after winning Rampur Sadar from behind bars for the ninth time running. Having spent over two years in prison Azam Khan was released on bail from Sitapur on May 20 on the orders of the Supreme Court.
In Azamgarh, Bhojpuri singer-actor and BJP candidate Dinesh Lal Yadav 'Nirahua' defeated the Samajwadi candidate and Akhilesh's cousin Dharmendra Yadav by 8,000 votes. In 2019 Akhilesh Yadav had defeated him by a whopping 2.5 lakh votes. In Rampur the SP candidate Mohammad Asim Raza, considered close to Azam Khan, lost by over 40,000 votes to the BJP's Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi.
Both Akhilesh Yadav and Azam Khan have accused the governing BJP of hijacking the by-polls by not allowing SP voters to come out and cast their votes. Rampur recorded 41% voting this time while Azamgarh recorded 49%, considerably lower than the 2019 general election.
However, a more honest assessment of the defeat appears to have been made by the losing SP candidate in Azamgarh, Dharmendra Yadav, who told reporters after the defeat that despite trying very hard his party had failed to convince members of the Muslim community.
Yadav also blamed the veiled alliance of the BJP and BSP in Azamgarh for ensuring his defeat – an alliance which has come out in the open with BSP president Mayawati's decision to support the BJP's presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu in the forthcoming election.
While an implicit understanding between the BSP and BJP has been a longstanding pattern, the rapid disenchantment of Muslim voters with the Samajwadi party should be taken seriously by Akhilesh Yadav if he is to remain politically relevant.
Nothing can explain why Akhilesh Yadav chose not to campaign in either Rampur and Azamgarh during the recently concluded bypolls. Since winning the seat of Azamgarh in 2019 he rarely visited his constituency. The defeated candidate, Nirahua, who has now won, continued to nurture his constituency. He is now reaping the benefits.
Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath, his ministers and the entire BJP cadre were rigorously campaigning both in Rampur and Azamgarh with a determination to add two more Lok Sabha seats to the existing BJP kitty of 62 from UP and 2 seats of its alliance partner Apna Dal. The BJP+ now have 66 seats from UP, giving the confidence to CM Yogi to declare that if the bypolls are any indication the saffron party would win all 80 seats in UP in 2024.
According to the CSDS-Lokniti survey after the 2022 Vidhan Sabha election, a record 79% of Muslim voters had voted for the SP. What happened within three and a half months to frustrate the Muslims to such an extent that they left the SP high and dry in its run for Parliament?
Immediately after the assembly results came out in March the state government led by 'Bulldozer Baba' targeted Muslim builders in Lucknow and elsewhere by bulldozing their occupied or ready to occupy buildings on some technical ground or the other. For instance, environmental clearance or some other NOC had not been sought. Needless to add, many of these builders had close ties with the SP.
Aping the BJP, the Samajwadi party did not host an iftaar party during Ramzaan this year. When Nupur Sharma's objectionable statement against the Prophet led to widespread protests across Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh remained confined to Twitter in condemning her. The Muslims community did read between the lines.
The BJP government also demolished houses of Muslim protestors in Kanpur and Allahabad and defended their action in the Supreme Court claiming that the "demolitions had been carried out by the Local Development Authorities …as part of their routine effort against unauthorized/illegal constructions …" Once again the SP's solidarity was confined to social media.
The Yogi government's subjective and blatant use of the Gangster and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, the Prevention of Public Property Damages Act, and the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act of 2020 has pushed Muslims to the wall.
And the political party in which they placed their faith earlier this year did little to support them in their hour of crisis. Muslim voters had completely rejected the AIMIM during the Vidhan Sabha election, reducing Owaisi's party's share to less than NOTA.
During his election campaign in Azamgarh, CM Yogi promised to change the name of the district from Azamgarh to Aryamgarh. He had once described the district as the nursery of terrorism – a profiling that has clearly been forgotten and forgiven by its people.
In a knee-jerk reaction to the debacle in Rampur and Azamgarh, the SP President has announced the dissolution of the national, state and district executive bodies of all its organizations including the youth and the women's wings with immediate effect.
"The party is gearing up for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the focus is to strengthen the organization to take on the BJP with full force", said a senior party leader.
However, as alliance partner Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party President Om Prakash Rajbhar recently said that to strengthen his hold over the party organization, Akhilesh Yadav should come out of the comfort of his air-conditioned room. Rajbhar assured the Samajwadi chief that he would remain an alliance partner in 2024 but advised Akhilesh Yadav not to treat his workers like bureaucrats. "You take a car to even travel for 100 metres…Your party workers have asked me to request you to meet them like I meet my party workers. You can easily win them if you stand with them…" was Rajbhar's sage advice.
The bypolls are an early warning to Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi party to get its act together and climb down from its high horse if it wants to remain a serious player in UP politics.