Samajwadi Party's workers are in a state of shock after today’s spectacular show by the BJP. “Lutiya doob gayi,” a party functionary from Jhansi tells Catch.
“There was a huge crowd at Akhilesh’s rally when he came here. He also took several initiatives to usher in development,” says Gaya Prasad Savita, another worker in Chitrakoot. “Log Modi ki tsunami me beh gaye.”
“Only Yadavs and Muslims seem to have voted for us. The rest have gone with the BJP,” says an MP of the party. “Hindu-Muslim election ho gaya,” adds the worker in Jhansi. “It is a result of the way the BJP polarised the state. Did you forget Shamshan-Qabristan remark?”
Savita, however, refuses to look at the result in such simplistic terms. Such a defeat can only be possible when a lot of factors work against you, he points out. He lists a few: “Our candidates did not go meet people after winning the last time. To maintain a connect, they should have gone out, attended functions.”
“On top of it, the leader, Akhilesh Yadav, was too overconfident,” Savita says, adding that the outgoing chief minister shouldn't have been so brazen with his father and uncle, both senior leaders of the party. “Look at Shivpal Yadav, he won with a such a huge margin. His experience would have come handy,” Savita argued.
“Akhilesh should have changed candidates on more seats. He did not do that,” the worker in Jhansi says. “But where was the time to do that?” In the run-up to the election, Akhilesh was busy fighting a different battle – to take control of the party from his father and uncle.
“When the EC finally allotted the cycle symbol to us, there was barely any time left for looking for the right candidates. Or to sort out differences with those left out,” an aide of Akhilesh argues. Savita counters, “During Netaji’s time tickets would be announced well in advance,” she says, referring to Mulayam.
Akhilesh and his team were confident that just coming out victorious in the family showdown would negate the anti-incumbency against the SP. But UP is known to not repeat governments. Akhilesh should have seen that and realised he is no Narendra Modi who can pull votes with sheer charisma. “Yahan to BJP ki hawa hai. Netaon ko pata nahi ki log five saal me sarkar badal dete hain. Yahan bhi badal denge,” an SP activist in Mahoba had told this reporter two days before the polling in Bundelkhand. Prophetic words. Like other parts of UP, the BJP also swept Bundelkhand, the most backward regions of the country.
Just before the second phase of polling, a similar discussion had taken place in Azam Khan’s living room in Rampur. “We are facing anti-incumbency in some areas,” one worker of the party had quipped.
The eleventh -hour battle with his family also forced Akhilesh to cede too much space to the Congress in their alliance. Initially, Akhilesh was not so keen on the allying with any party.
“The party had to give out the message that it was in the reckoning. If there was no alliance with the Congress, people may have assumed that the SP had lost the race after the infighting in the family and gone over to the BSP,” says the aide. The alliance was also a message to the Muslims that they should align with the SP-Congress combine. The Muslims were indeed receptive. But this gave another handle to the BJP to attack the SP – “the politics of appeasement”. This complemented the clearly communal message the BJP had sent by not fielding a single Muslim candidate in the state.
The hopes of the SP-Congress combine hinged on the Muslim-Yadav alliance. So much so that Akhilesh did not respond to overtures for an alliance by the RLD fearing it would push the Muslims towards the BSP.
The alliance clearly did not work. “Without the alliance, the Congress would have been able to at least keep its workers engaged and happy,” complains a Congress leader.
SP workers too believe that the alliance cost the party, but the party's senior leaders feel it was not such a bad idea. “How do you blame the alliance? The Congress contested just 105 seats. What about the rest of the 298 seats. Why did we do badly there?” the party MP asks.
“At least we are in opposition,” another leader says. “Look at the BSP.”
Path to the future
“Now that the party is in the opposition, it will have to work on the ground again, reconnect with the people,” the worker from Jhansi says. “This has at least taken the overconfidence away from the leader who did not face any big opposition in the last five years of his rule.”
Another SP leader explains how the BJP’s projection of its top people, except Narendra Modi, as just caste leaders – Rajnath Singh was projected merely as the Thakur face, for example -- has resulted in Akhilesh becoming a “taller leader”. “That Modi had to hit the ground himself and stay put for three days has sent a message that only Modi can counter Akhilesh,” the SP leader says by way of an explanation.
Moreover, the leader adds, “The BJP will be under pressure to deliver on the promises it made to different sections – OBCs, EBCs. Making good on those promises is not easy. And the next time, the BJP won't have the excuse of not being in power in the state which it used this time.”
Other SP leaders, though, are not convinced that this alone would revive the party. “The politics in the state requires realignment. Without that it would be difficult,” the MP says.
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