As Mulayam Singh Yadav turned 74 on November 22, Samajwadi Party (SP) cadres gathered at the party headquarters on Vikramidtya Marg. “Lal Kile Par Cycle Nishaan, Maang Raha Hai Hindustan (cycle symbol on Red Fort is the nation’s desire),” a thousand voices cheered. Mulayam’s Dilli Chalo campaign had begun.
The SP could be the UPA’s principal lifesaver in the Capital, but in Uttar Pradesh the party is already focussed on the next Lok Sabha elections. The SP is ambitiously strategising for the ultimate objective: to see party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav as Prime Minister. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his party cadres are now pulling out all stops in the way they seek to that goal. Largesse is being doled out to keep the electorate happy, and the party’s Muslim-friendly image is being carefully maintained.
To begin with, the SP has announced the names of 64 probable candidates (there are 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state) who will contest in the 2014 elections. This move alone speaks volumes about the battle-readiness of a party, energised by its return to power in the state and the clout it enjoys at the Centre.
Mulayam, who had endorsed his son Akhilesh and made him the youngest chief minister in the country, has been unequivocal in his direction: the state government must fulfil promises made during the Assembly election campaign, and within a year, if it is to remain credible in the eyes of the voters. The state government, therefore, announced a huge relief to more than seven lakh farmers by waiving their loans of up to Rs 50,000. The chief minister clarified that farmers who had taken loans up to Rs 50,000 from the rural banks and had repaid up to 10 per cent of the principal amount would benefit, and he has sanctioned Rs 1650 crore for this relief package. The decision coincided with Mulayam’s 74th birthday, and is clearly aimed at consolidating the agrarian vote bank in favour of the SP. Moreover, the chief minister is holding rallies and public meetings to distribute ‘unemployment allowance’ that he has disbursed in six places so far. The government has already fulfilled its promise of giving Rs 30,000 to each Muslim girl for pursuing higher education.
Add to that the party’s decision to review the pending criminal cases against all those who have been allegedly involved in the serial attacks on Sankat Mochan Mandir in Varanasi in 2006, and in the serial attacks in 2007 on the Collectorate in Lucknow and Faizabad. Even though the Allahabad High Court has reprimanded the UP government for withdrawing the cases against the accused, Akhilesh has successfully played this important card.
The SP’s pro-Muslim image does, however, not fit in with the fact that a handful of Muslims figure in the first list of 2014 candidates. Of the 64 SP candidates, only six are Muslims. This won’t please disgruntled Muslim leader Abu Asim Azmi, or the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid who has charged the Akhilesh Yadav government with failure to protect the minorities. At present, out of the 68 MLAs from the Muslim community—an all-time high—the SP has the most at 42, followed by the BSP with 16. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, no Muslim candidate won on an SP ticket.
Contrast that with the potential candidates who have some link with the state’s first family, the Yadavs, or can boast of some connection with those in power. While the SP has been critical of “parivarvaad” or dynastic politics, especially in the Congress, it has several members from the Yadav family calling the shots in the party. Besides party chief Mulayam and his son Chief Minister Akhilesh, there is PWD Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav—Mulayam’s brother, and Ram Gopal Yadav—Mulayam’s cousin. Add to that powerful familial list Dimple Yadav—Akhilesh’s wife and an MP from Kannauj—who will also contest the next election. The list of candidates will get heavier with many more from the family getting in the fray: Akshay Yadav—son of Ram Gopal; and Dharmendra Yadav—nephew of Mulayam and an MP from Badaun, to name a few. Even Mulayam’s youngest son Prateek Yadav’s name is floating as a possible candidate. Initial reports said Prateek could constest from Azamgarh.Though senior minister Balram Yadav has been fielded from Azamgarh, possibility of the youngest Yadav contesting cannot be ruled out.
The list of candidates also includes relatives of those who throng the power corridors. Brij Kishore Singh from Basti is the brother of Horticulture Minister Raj Kishore Singh; Gaurav Swarup from Muzaffarnagar is the son of Minister of state for Urban development Chitranjan Swarup; Humera from Amroha is the wife of state minister Kamal Akhtar; and Seema Mishra from Bhadohi is the daughter of MLA Vijay Mishra, a criminal history sheeter. Kirtiwardhan Singh from Gonda is the son of Agriculture Minister Anand Singh, and Devendra Yadav from Etah is the father-in-law of Chief Minister Akhilesh’s special secretary Pandhari Yadav. Prominent among those from the government who will contest are the Vidhan Sabha Speaker Mata Prasad Pandey from Dumariaganj, as well as Surendra Singh Patel, Balram Yadav, Om Prakash Singh and Shahid Manjoor—all ministers.
An interesting aspect in the SP’s election ploy is its treatment of the Congress Party. Not only has the SP decided not to field candidates against Congress President Sonia Gandhi (in Rae Bareli) and her son Rahul Gandhi (in Amethi), many other Congress candidates can have it easy in the 2014 elections. The SP has fielded lightweights like Anand Bhaduaria who will contest in Dhaurahara constituency, currently held by Union Minister of State for HRD Jitin Prasada. Then, mafia don-turned-politician Arun Shankar Shukla will contest in Unnao, currently held by Congress’s Annu Tandon who’s close to industrialist Mukhesh Ambani. Shukla had miserably lost in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections when he contested as a Bahujan Samajwadi Party candidate, and was later thrown out of that party. Similarly, CN Singh, former SP leader Amar Singh’s protégé and not a political heavyweight, will contest in Pratapgarh, currently held by Congress’s Ratna Singh.
But in all the hullabaloo of election strategies and politics of appeasement, no one seems to be bothered about the law-and-order situation in the state that has seen seven riots in six months. Good governance, which Akhilesh had promised, has taken the backseat. Funds for the developmental projects haven’t been released to the extent it was needed. Several of the chief minister’s dream projects are languishing. It is not that Akhilesh is unaware of the deficit in governance. But one wonders whether he can do anything about it? Does he have the will and the power to have his way? Will he learn from his father’s folly?
- Sunday Standard