LUCKNOW: The departure of senior leader Neeraj Shekhar from Samajwadi Party (SP) fold after quitting his Rajya Sabha membership may have serious repercussions for the party, especially, in Purvanchal where he holds a considerable clout not only among thakurs but across the socio-political spectrum.
At a time when the SP is trying hard to recover from debacle in Lok Sabha elections and embarrassing failure of its alliance with BSP, Shekhar’s move would weaken it further in eastern UP. It will be reflected in upcoming bypolls and also 2022 battle for Lucknow.
On the other hand, BJP has certainly got a shot in its arm by roping in the former SP leader because of his support base in eastern UP and prosperous legacy of his father and former PM Chandra Shekhar in eastern UP.
Neeraj Shekhar was elected to Lok Sabha as an SP candidate from his family bastion - Ballia - in the 2008 Lok Sabha bypolls due to the demise of Chandrashekhar in 2007.
He repeated his win from the same seat in 2009 general election but lost in 2014 under the sweeping saffron surge when the BJP won 71 of 80 seats in the state. Shekhar was then sent to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh by SP leadership on November 26, 2014 and his tenure was to end on November 25, 2020.
Being brought into the Samajwadi Party fold by patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2007, Shekhar (50) was considered quite close to SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. However, as per informed sources, a spat over ticket distribution during the recent general elections between Akhilesh and Shekhar led the latter to switch camps from red to saffron.
The political pundits believe that SP chief has been unable to keep the party flock intact after taking over as chief by deposing his father in coup of sorts on January 1, 2017 just ahead of the UP Assembly elections. “He has even failed in his experiment with alliances—first with Congress in 2017 UP polls and now with arch rival BSP in 2019,” said a senior BJP leader.
As per highly placed SP sources, the seeds of differences between Akhilesh and Neeraj Shekhar were sown at the time of party’s alliance with Mayawati was taking shape. The grand alliance proved to be self-destructive for Akhilesh in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In fact, Neeraj, known to be a practitioner of ideology-based politics like his father, wanted ticket from his family bastion – Ballia—either for himself or his wife Dr Sushma Shekhar in 2019 polls. But Akhilesh, even after promising him the same, failed to fulfil his commitment and gave ticket to Sanatan Pandey allegedly under pressure from Mayawati.
This left Neeraj hurt and he started making up his mind for having his own political course which culminated in joining the BJP on Tuesday. Despite senior SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav’s refusal to acknowledge the impact of Neeraj’s exit, it is set to upset the calculus of thakur votes in Samajwadi Party.
It was well reflected in 2019 polls as miffed Neeraj supporters did not come out for campaign. Even Neeraj Shekhar maintained a safe distance from polls and did not turn up at Akhilesh’s Ballai rally.