As the battle for Uttar Pradesh gets intense, the Samajwadi Party and the incumbent BJP government are leaving no stone unturned in reaching out to the masses and exploring alliance formations to retain power in the crucial state that churns out most number of MPs in the country.
While the BJP has a path cut out for itself for Uttar Pradesh that could help it chart out the agenda for 2024, former chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav is driving on his Rath Yatra formula to build momentum just like in 2012.
Home minister Amit Shah had recently said if people of UP want to see Narendra Modi as their Prime Minister in 2024, then they will have to elect a BJP government in the state in 2022.
All this looks like a contest between the SP and BJP, but what about the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress? According to political experts, the lack of activism on the ground by BSP and Congress has diverted all the attention towards the SP campaign, which is being perceived as the sole contender against the BJP.
Political commentator and veteran journalist Ratan Mani Lal told News18, “The Samajwadi Party appears to be gathering some steam because of several reasons, one of them is that other political parties such as the Congress and BSP have been reduced to a non-entity because of their own internal affairs. If these two parties are not much visible, then suddenly the arena is dominated by the BJP and SP. Because of the weakening of other opposition parties, the SP alone remains in the fray. Also, during earlier elections, there were smaller parties who used to create a ruckus, however, most of them have allied with the SP and BJP.”
The Yatra Politics
Akhilesh Yadav, who was accused of doing armchair and Twitter politics, announced the state-wide yatra in September to reach out to people ahead of the polls. Almost after a month of local yatras, Akhilesh announced his plan to launch the ‘Samajwadi Vijay Rath Yatra’ across the state in different phases. According to SP leaders, the Rath Yatra is a lucky charm for the party that led to its victory in 2012 assembly polls.
Meanwhile, the Congress has also jumped the yatra bandwagon and announced a series of ‘Pratigya Yatras’ led by party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi who has been quite active in the state lately. Priyanka reached out to the victims of Lakhimpur Kheri, Hathras and Sitapur and other incidents and made sure that she questions the government on their behalf.
The BJP too announced six yatras, which will cover Awadh, Kashi, Gorakhpur, Brij, western UP and Bundelkhand regions. The BJP will bring its workers into the election mode through the yatras and ensure people are told about welfare and development the current government has done for them.
The only party that has remained away from the ‘yatra politics’ is Mayawati-led BSP. It, however, is focussing on ‘Brahmin Sammelans’ to woo upper-caste voters that helped it form the government in 2007. BSP national general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra is the in charge of the Brahmin gatherings also known as ‘Prabuddh Varg Sammelans’ across the state.
Alliances and Exoduses
The SP, which had earlier forged an alliance with the Congress in 2017 and with the BSP in 2019, has realised its mistake and said it will not tie up with any big political party this time. It would rather shake hands with smaller and regional parties to form the government. The change in the strategy is seen similar to what the BJP had done in the 2017 assembly election.
Moreover, Akhilesh’s estranged uncle, Shivpal Yadav, who had severed ties with him before the 2017 UP elections, is now back to the fore after the SP chief announced an alliance with his outfit. The signs of truce between them were visible in 2021 after the mediation from SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. According to experts, Akhilesh-Shivpal patch-up will help the party steer towards a win and will add to the fire power of SP and will make it a strong contender for 2022.
Though SP’s alliance with Chaudhary Jayant Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal was expected by many, an unforeseen tie-up with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party has given the party a big boost in the Purvanchal region. Rajbhar, who was a former BJP ally and a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government, had formed Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha before joining the SP. Major stakeholders of the morcha have now joined hands with the SP except Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM.
Meanwhile, the BJP retained one of its old allies Apna Dal (S) led by Anupriya Patel and had a tie-up with Sanjay Nishad-led NISHAD party, which is said to have a strong hold on voters from fishermen communities spread across Purvanchal. Raebareli MLA Aditi Singh also switched over to the BJP, which wss quite a jolt for the Congress. Other Congress leader who joined the BJP in 2021 was Jitin Prasada who is said to be a strong Brahmin leader of the party.
Amidst the maelstrom of alliances and break-ups, the Congress has consistently seen the exodus of some of its prominent leaders such as Prasada, Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, Aditi Singh, Pankaj Malik and Harendra Malik who have mostly alleged being “ignored” within the party.