The Election Commission’s decision to allot the Samajwadi Party’s cycle symbol to the Akhilesh Yadav faction — and recognising his group as the real SP — will have a significant bearing on the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh.
For one, the end of the internecine fight is likely to swing a significant chunk of the SP’s loyal voters, mainly the Muslims and the Yadavs, in favour of the young chief minister. “Voters relate with the symbol, more than the party,” says professor Badri Narayan of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
A section of the Yadavs might still go with party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav but a majority of them, especially the youth, are likely to shift their loyalty to the 43-year-old SP leader.
In 1995, Chandrababu Naidu had launched a successful revolt against Telugu Desam Party (TDP) founder and then chief minister NT Rama Rao. NTR died soon after, but Naidu didn’t face any backlash from his loyalists in subsequent months and years.
The SP is likely to seal its alliance with the Congress later this week, a deal that would pitchfork the combine as the main contender against the resurgent BJP in the coming elections in UP.
Muslims are known to go with a party or alliance that stands the best chance to defeat the BJP. Akhilesh-led SP and the Congress together could provide them this option.
While it is still not clear which way Muslim leaders such as Azam Khan would go, the community is unlikely to place its bets on Mulayam-led party or what could be a mere shadow of the SP.
“There will be a division in Muslims and Yadavs—between Mulayam and Akhilesh—but the CM will have an edge. UP might witness a triangular fight,” says Badri Narayan. He believes that the support of Muslims to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) might not be to the extent that it expected earlier.
The EC’s order might be a setback to the BJP and the BSP, which were banking on the family feud in the SP to give them an advantage. The BSP expected the Muslims to leave the SP and join its core votebank of Dalits to give it the requisite numerical heft to bring it back to power.
The EC’s decision on Monday might have come as a disappointment to the party.
The BJP has been wooing non-Yadav OBCs and so was Akhilesh. The young CM’s revolt against Mulayam — the face of Yadavs’ assertion in UP — and other members of this clan was perceived to go down well with other communities. He projected himself as the face of aspiring UP, looking beyond the considerations of caste and religion.
His fight against the entrenched powers in SP could also neutralise, to an extent, the anti-incumbency factor against his government as he could lay the blame for all that went wrong on his family elders (excluding uncle Ramgopal Yadav).
While Akhilesh has become the undisputed face of the SP, the BJP is banking on the achievements of Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre to get a mandate in Uttar Pradesh.
The ruling party at the Centre believes that demonetisation has given it an insurmountable lead in the state. And, without a face in the crucial elections, the BJP should hope that its assessment is correct.