Akhilesh take sole credit for these projects. What had begun as a fight for control between uncle and nephew has now become an ego clash between father and son. How much the SP will link these development projects with their reelection campaign, and who will get recognition for them, is now an open question. This distinction between leader and chief minister has now become even more confusing, because a diminished Akhilesh continues to be the party’s candidate for the job. With no new pathbreaking idea to fall back on, it is hard to see how the SP will attract voters from outside its traditional fold—backward castes and Muslims. Indeed, even these are at risk as both these votebanks are being wooed by several others in the fray.
The Congress is trying to attract Muslims by employing the message that it is the only party in the running that is capable of taking on the proHindutva BJP on the national stage. The BSP, on the other hand, is hoping for a shift in Muslim votes by projecting itself as the only party capable of winning enough seats to stop the BJP from storming to power in UP. The BJP itself is trying to win over a section of the backwardcaste voters by invoking a Hindu coalition similar to the one it had managed to fashion for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when it won a staggering 71 out of 80 seats in the state.
Mulayam believes that Akhilesh’s ploy to overwhelm these caste complications with the ubiquitous promise of development for all was never going to work. His strategy, with which Shivpal and Amar Singh are in sync, is to amplify these divisions rather than to suppress them—to appeal to voters from backward castes on the grounds that they are one of them, and to Muslim voters on the grounds that the SP is the only party committed to saving them from the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. As evidence of this, it is telling the community that Mayawati had aligned with the BJP in the past, and could do it again if it is politically expedient. Mulayam is also hoping that having Amar Singh in the fold will pull some Thakur votes away from the BJP to his own party.
Banking on social engineering alone, given Uttar Pradesh’s convoluted poll arithmetic, is a dangerous game to play at the best of times. The caste divisions are so intricate, and the numbers game so tight, that a small shift either way can change a party’s fortunes. In 2012, when the SP surged to power with 224 of the 403 seats, its vote share was 29 per cent compared with the incumbent Mayawati’s 26 per cent. The BJP and Congress had managed to win just 15 and 12 per cent votes, respectively. But the scene changed dramatically in 2014, when the Modi wave got the BJP 43 per cent of the votes, while reducing the ruling SP to 22 per cent. The BSP, which got almost 20 per cent of the popular vote, could not even open its account. Add antiincumbency to the mix and the equation gets even more complicated.
Whether Akhilesh’s development mantra would have been enough to win the election is difficult to say, but at the very least, it offered the party a parallel agenda. Under no circumstances could it have ended up hurting the SP’s chances. At a time when things were looking comfortable in the runup to the polls, the party has unwittingly made the game a little more interesting—not just for itself but for the others as well.
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Akhilesh Yadav at the Lucknow international cricket stadium