UP loss highlights the limits of Akhilesh Yadav’s strategy
When Akhilesh Yadav kicked off his Samajwadi Vijay Yatra from Ghazipur, his party had a mountain to climb with only months to go for the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh
When Akhilesh Yadav kicked off his Samajwadi Vijay Yatra from Ghazipur, his party had a mountain to climb with only months to go for the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party (SP) had lost three straight elections, its social base was shrinking, and the taint of lawlessness and Yadav excesses in its previous administration seemed etched in public memory.
Yadav crafted a cautious strategy to stop his party’s slide and take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had changed the grammar of the state’s politics with its record-shattering victory in the 2017 assembly polls. He added leaders from small but instrumental castes in an attempt to expand outside his core Muslim-Yadav base, quietly retooled the party’s rural organisation, sought to shake off his image of a reluctant leader, engineered some high-profile defections from the BJP, and crafted a careful coalition with small but influential parties. With the changes, he hoped to challenge the BJP on governance, social coalitions, and anti-incumbency.
The landslide victory of the BJP on Thursday underlined where, and how, Yadav had failed to scale the peak. Yes, there were some silver linings: The party rose from 47 in 2017 to 110 in 2022, expanded its vote share from 22% to 32% as of 10.30pm — its best performance ever — and emerged as the principal challenger to the BJP, leaving the once-mighty Bahujan Samaj Party very far behind.
Yet, his third straight loss after taking over the party’s reins – 2017 and 2022 assembly polls, and 2019 Lok Sabha polls – also showed where the 48-year-old was limited in his vision. His strategy, borrowed from the old Mandal playbook of crafting social bases caste by caste, couldn’t trump the welfarism-driven Hindutva politics that fundamentally changed ground realities and helped the BJP consolidate its broad caste-diverse coalition first forged in 2017. He didn’t have a vote catcher of the stature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or chief minister Yogi Adityanath. His trump cards – the 12-odd leaders who defected from the BJP – came a cropper as the Modi-Yogi appeal helped paper over local discontent against the BJP.
And, as Muslims, Yadavs and a section of Jats coalesced behind the SP, the memories of “Yadav raj” became more pronounced in the minds of the smaller backwards and Dalits. Worse, with the BSP crumbing in large swathes of the state, those votes moved to the BJP as social realities – think of the traditional animosity between Dalits and Yadavs -- prevented these groups from even considering the SP as an option. In the end, despite the crowds at his rally, Yadav was unable to break away groups from the BJP’s social coalition. He maximised the strength of his own base, but that also proved to be his ceiling
“Akhilesh’s strategy of smaller alliances gave good results but could not convert into victory due to the intense Modi-Yogi campaign. But within the defeat, Akhilesh has many wins. He now has presented the state with a strong opposition. He has emerged as a big leader with this election that he fought on his own -- there was no Mulayam, no Azam Khan. He also has weakened the other opposition parties -- BSP and Congress. He has a future now,” said political analyst SK Dwivedi.
Yadav may have hoped that with a vote share of 32%, he would form the government. After all, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav became CM in 1993 and 2003 with vote shares of 17.82% and 25.38%. And when he became CM in 2012, his party commanded just 29% support. Only twice in its history has the SP crossed its 2022 tally.
He is now the sole heir of Mulayam’s formidable legacy, having ended the feud with his uncle and assuming control of the party. But as the verdict on Thursday shows, he will have to hit the ground running on Day 1 of Adityanath’s second term for the SP to have any chance of doing well in 2024 and beyond – he has to somehow expand his party’s social base, counter the BJP’s intricate network of welfare beneficiaries and local cadre, cash in on the discontent among the young about unemployment and excise memories of lawlessness in his previous term. With politics in India’s most-populous state becoming largely bipolar, the mountain just got more steep.
WOULD BE GOOD TO ADD ONE AKHILESH QUOTE