SP is Best Fighting a Lone Battle

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Weeks before the crucial 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, the ruling party was hit by a familial fight. Right from the top leadership, to elected MLAs to the party symbol – there was little going for, Samajwadi Party; Mulayam Singh’s brainchild, Shivpal’s organizational acumen and Akhilesh’s popularity. The ruling party, rife with rebels and internal altercations struggled to keep itself afloat. On one hand, with less than four weeks to go for the first phase of elections, the ruling party was yet to kick off it election campaign. On the other hand, the Modi Shah juggernaut worked overtime, invested all possible resources, and campaigned sincerely across the State. Admittedly, where BJP contested to win UP and SP contested to retain UP, INC just wanted to be taken seriously. Amidst the enthusiastic BJP and worried SP, the grand-old party, which has been a spent force in the State for two decades, saw an opportunity to revive itself. In a united attempt to derail the BJP’s election machinery, the Akhilesh Yadav lead SP and Rahul Gandhi lead INC entered into a pre-poll alliance. While it was clearly the most politically undemanding decision at that time, it is absolutely mandatory for SP to revisit and reconsider the utility of this alliance going forward.

In a recent luncheon discussion organized by SP, the National President expressed that he was open to the idea of a United Front, cobbled with the intention to vanquish BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, his views on whether there would be an SP INC pre-poll alliance continue to be recondite. As a native of UP and keen observer of the party, I firmly believe the party should not sign up for a pre-poll seat sharing agreement with the Indian National Congress.

Non-Elite Genesis of Socialist Movement

Samajwadi Party is a socialist party, that derives its ideological nutrition from the renowned social engineer, Ram Manohar Lohia. One of the initial leaders who propounded the idea of a “grand alliance” against the dominant Congress, he contested against Jawaharlal Nehru from Phulpur in 1962. Lohia strongly opposed the Nehruvian model of development which he believed did not do enough to commission better life to the masses. It was under the wings of this unyielding socialist, known for calling Indira Gandhi a “goongi gudiya” that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the founder of Samajwadi Party, evolved as a sharp unrelenting politician. He took Lohia’s legacy forward and like his mentor, he too did not pander to the Congress party’s top brass. Notwithstanding the repeated political arrangements with INC at the State level, Netaji’s strained relationships with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi in 1999 reflected his self-belief and ideological conviction. Being the astute politician and master of ethnic equations, Netaji was well aware, that the electorate would not hesitate to punish him at the Hastings, if he ‘explicitly’ diluted his stance against the INC and compromised with the socialist movement.

Peeved Leaders and Pained Electorate

And Netaji’s fears were not unwarranted for two reasons. One, power struggle between local leaders from both camps was self-explanatory. The Lucknow Central seat was one such example. Both, Ravidas Mehrotra from SP and Maruf Khan from INC filed contested against each other, from the prestigious constituency. Another example of seat haggling was observed in Amethi and Rae Bareli, where the contestants were in no mood to toe their respective party lines. Two, SP loyalists did not approve of the alliance. SP lost majority of safe seats at Etah, Badaun, Kannauj, Ghazipur and even Azamgarh which spelled the mood of SP electorate, in context of its alliance. Only 40 percent of cabinet ministers were able to retain their seats.

SP loyalists were both, confused and disappointed. They considered Rahul Gandhi as direct competition to their leader Akhilesh Yadav. They were confused as to why did Akhilesh Yadav agree to join hands with his direct competitor. They were disappointed, because they perceived SP as a meaningful alternative to the Congress, which for them did not bear any political relevance.

Playing Second Fiddle to a National Party

At the time of going to Vidhan Sabha elections, there were 224 sitting MLAs from Samajwadi Party and 28 from INC. Based on this ratio, the seat sharing ratio would have been 50:219. However, the national party was able to wrestle more than twice i.e. 105 seats and belie the alliance as that of equals, across all channels of communication. On multiple occasions, the national party splashed copious amounts of entitlement, when it was just a one-third partner in the alliance. In fact, during a certain press conference the Congress supremo was actually economical in his praise. “His niyat is right. Some work happened under his rule, some perhaps didn’t happen”, said Rahul Gandhi. Albeit Rahul Gandhi supporters called it generous since the leader had softened his stand from “20 saal, UP Behaal”, for the SP leadership, cadre, and electorate it painted Akhilesh Yadav as a leader who was being forced to play the second fiddle. This critical assessment and self-proclaimed authority did not augur well, for a politician who clearly needed the alliance more than SP.

The Party boasted of 36 seats in 2005 and 23 in 2009. With a proven track record of policy implementation, good governance, and the mass appeal, it is best for Akhilesh Yadav to launch “Mission Forty for SP” and go single. His party members and supporters need to feel reassured of both, his singular leadership and his ability to stand without political crutches.

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Gunja Kapoor is an Associate Fellow with Pahle India Foundation (PIF). She has over 5 years of experience in financial research and analysis. Prior to joining Pahle India Foundation, she has worked with a real estate private equity fund and CRISIL Ratings. She is an MBA from XIM, Bhubaneswar and B.E from VTU, Karnataka. Her broad areas of interest include financial inclusion, technology, and policies related to the SME sector.