FOR DECADES, the politics of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party (SP) revolved around the fulcrum of Muslim-Yadav (M-Y) combination, with the SP patriarch wearing the sobriquet “Maulana Mulayam” proudly on his sleeves.
After taking over the reins of the party his father founded, Akhilesh Yadav also, for some time, persisted with the combination.
However, with the advent and mega rise of the Hindutva 2.0 political wave, coinciding with the emergence and rise of Narendra Modi on the national stage, the Yadav voters seemed to have deserted the SP, perhaps swayed by the Hindu-Muslim rhetoric, while the Muslim votes got divided between the SP and Mayawati’s BSP.
Akhilesh Yadav is doing a course-correction now.
With the Yadav vote bank possibly disillusioned with the BJP due to the perception that with a Thakur – Yogi Adityanath is a Rajput from Uttarakhand – at the helm, the Yadavs are no longer the politically-influential force that they were so used to under the Mulayam-Akhilesh regimes, Akhilesh doesn’t want anything to rock his for-now stable vote bank of M-Y.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, the SP was handed a crushing defeat by the BJP, winning just 47 seats in a house of 403 – down 177 seats from its 2012 tally of 224 seats. The party’s vote percentage also came down drastically from over 29 per cent to below 22 per cent.
It was back to the drawing board for the party. How to retain its M-Y vote bank without losing about nine per cent Yadav votes?
And that is why it is understandable, the reluctance and eventual refusal of the SP to field controversial politician Imran Masood, who hit headlines and was also arrested during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections for his hate speech in which he allegedly threatened to chop Narendra Modi into pieces, from Kanpur.
Masood ditched Congress to join the SP a few days ago, a decision that led to speculation about him being the possible SP candidate in the ensuing elections. However, the SP decided against giving him the mandate.
Another controversial Muslim name who seems to have fallen by the wayside in so far as SP strategy for the Assembly elections is concerned is former MP Qadir Rana, a claimant for the Muzaffarnagar seat. He too was overlooked by the SP.
The Samajwadi Party’s reluctance to be seen as giving in too much to the controversial leaders among Muslim politicians has to be seen in the light of the fact that it doesn’t also want the BJP to turn the campaign into a 80:20 battle.
At every opportunity, Yogi and some other BJP leaders have tried to polarise the campaign, with Yogi’s 80 per cent versus 20 percent remark, a clear reference to the religious composition of the state was made.
That is one trap that the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP doesn’t want to fall into. He wants the Muslims to vote for his party but without attracting criticism for being soft towards the community.
Of the 403 Assembly seats, at least 83 have more than 25 per cent Muslim voters. In the 2017 elections, the BJP won a whopping 62 of these while the SP managed just 16. This is one number that the SP leadership wants reserved.
Will it? We’ll get to know only on March 10.