Looking Ahead At UP: Is Akhilesh Yadav’s Speculated Move To Resign As A Newly Elected MLA And Keep His Lok Sabha Seat Ill-Advised?

| Updated: March 14, 2022 3:09 pm

An electoral setback can rattle the most confident and seasoned of politicians. Akhilesh Yadav conducted himself through the Uttar Pradesh assembly election with the chutzpah of a winner and even dared to call it out in the Samajwadi Party (SP)’s favour after the fifth stage of the eight-phase polling. The SP chief is understandably desolate. It wasn’t even a so-close-but-so-far situation for the SP; the winner, BJP, was ahead by a long shot right from round one.

According to reports from Lucknow, Akhilesh is contemplating resigning from Karhal, the assembly seat he won convincingly, keep his Azamgarh parliamentary seat and move back to Delhi, keeping in view the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The news egged on an SP colleague to say on Twitter that whatever the party has is in UP. The only piece of real estate it has, politically speaking. It was a clear hint that at this juncture, it was more imperative for Akhilesh to build on the gains accruing in UP, even if these were lower than expected, than seek a niche in BJP-overwhelmed Delhi.

The reports said Akhilesh planned to appoint his uncle, Shivpal Singh Yadav, as the Opposition leader in the UP assembly. Shivpal was elected from Jaswantnagar, the Yadav family borough. Would he bring the degree of aggression that is required from the SP to re-establish its credentials? Can Shivpal carry the SP’s MLAs along? Would the SP’s allies, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, accept Shivpal’s stewardship?

While these questions are relevant, there is another aspect that can’t be overlooked. Shivpal had quit the SP before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and floated his own outfit, the Pragatisheel SP (Lohia), which damaged the SP in its strongholds in the Fir-zabad-Etawah-Mainpuri region. The Pragatisheel SP did not win seats but a perception that it helped the BJP swing a belt virtually untouched by saffron gained currency. Shivpal was upset with Akhilesh since 2017, when Akhilesh reclaimed the leadership of the SP, dumping his father and the party’s founder, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Shivpal is Mulayam’s younger brother and importantly, the SP’s most skilled organisation resource person.

In the prelude to the 2022 election, when Akhilesh began putting the organisation in order and straightening out the intra-family issues, he reached out to Shivpal. The estranged uncle and nephew sued for peace and Shivpal contested on the SP’s symbol. But he has not yet merged his party with the SP. Questions will always linger over Shivpal’s “loyalty” quotient and his ability to take on the BJP at full throttle.

In Parliament, the SP has only five MPs including Akhilesh. The SP is unlikely to be relevant in a future endeavour to cobble an anti-BJP coalition, with or without the Congress. Had he won UP, he might have become the axis of an Opposition front, especially because he has good relations with Mamata Banerjee and MK Stalin, the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu chief ministers, as well as Sharad Pawar, the NCP veteran.

As of now, an Opposition front against the BJP is up in the air after the Aam Admi Party’s victory in Punjab. That places the Aap chief Arvind Kejriwal on the high table of an envisaged regrouping against the BJP.

Akhilesh would do well to recall his father’s experience with the Congress-spearheaded United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004. The SP had won 36 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, recording its best ever tally. It aspired to become a major UPA constituent on the back of its numbers. Yet when Sonia Gandhi, then the Congress president and UPA chairperson, convened the first meeting at her residence in May 2004, the SP was not invited.

Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the late CPI(M) general secretary, who represented the Left Front at the meeting, brought along Amar Singh, then the SP general secretary and a Mulayam confidant, to the shock and dismay of Sonia and the Congress leaders. Nobody acknowledged Amar Singh’s presence at the sitting, where apart from the Left leaders, representatives from the NCP, RJD and DMK were present. An enraged Sonia ensured that despite its bench strength, the SP was excluded from the UPA.

By 2008, the wheel turned a circle. The Left opposed the Manmohan Singh government’s decision to sign the India-US Civil Nuclear agreement and withdrew its support to the UPA. The SP stepped in to fill the breach and suddenly Amar Singh, who was persona non grata, became an important Congress ally.

Doubtless, in the just-concluded UP polls, the SP enhanced its numbers as well as its vote share. In the bi-polar polity that emerged in the state for the first time, the SP is mandated to play the role of an effective—indeed the only—Opposition to the BJP. Therefore, Akhilesh’s presence in Lucknow is imperative to ensure that the SP’s MLAs are on the ball and do not function in the half-hearted manner in which they did between 2017 and 2021.

The possibility of the BJP poaching on the SP MLAs or those of its allies cannot be ruled out.

Going by the present national trends, 2024 is a long haul for the Opposition. The Congress is in the doldrums and the constant chant about its indispensability in a non-BJP front is getting tiresome. Mamata and her Trinamool Congress Party have a long way to go before getting their footprints outside West Bengal. The other potential players—Uddhav Thackeray, K Chandrasekhar Rao and Stalin—are confined to their geographical spheres.

Akhilesh would do well to focus on UP and irrigate the ground that laid some promise for the SP.

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