Lucknow: “2022 sanjeevani ho sakta tha (2022 could have been a lifeline),” this is how a young Samajwadi Party (SP) leader described the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, whose results were announced Thursday.
As of 6.30 pm, the SP has won 21 seats and is leading in 95 for a total of 116 seats in the 403-member assembly. While party chief Akhilesh Yadav is comfortably ahead in Karhal, the SP’s import from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Swami Prasad Maurya, is staring at a loss in Fazilnagar.
This is the party’s third consecutive electoral loss under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav, who has come out of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav’s shadow, but hasn’t tasted poll success since he was dethroned as chief minister by the BJP in 2017.
In 2017, the SP allied with the Congress, but notched 47 seats, the lowest since its inception in 1992. The 2019 Lok Sabha election, where the SP allied with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), offered a humbling outcome too — with the SP’s count falling to 5 from 7 seats.
In 2014, when the Modi wave led to a BJP landslide in the Lok Sabha elections, the party won all of 5 seats, down from 23.
While the SP had a voteshare of 22.2 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, its voteshare in the 2017 UP assembly election was 28.32 per cent, which decreased to 18 per cent in 2019, when it lost three of its strongholds — Kannauj, Badaun and Firozabad.
For Akhilesh and the SP, a win in the 2022 election could thus have meant a revival of spirits.
Akhilesh, 48, led a spirited campaign this assembly election, turning the election into a BJP-versus-SP contest. It tried out a new social engineering formula by allying with non-Yadav OBC parties, and focused on the performance of the Yogi Adityanath government, with Akhilesh even patching up with his uncle Shivpal Yadav.
However, some party insiders feel the inclusion of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the campaign may be among the factors that cost the party dear.
Akhilesh to remain political force, but ‘greater struggle ahead’
While Akhilesh continues to be a force in UP, a loss in the 2022 assembly polls despite the SP’s improved tally suggests he is in for a greater struggle, say party leaders.
“This election was very important. After facing loss in three consecutive elections, another five years in the Opposition suggests an increased struggle for the party as well as Akhilesh ji. This election had revived the spirits of the party supporters,” a senior SP leader told ThePrint.
Political analyst Badri Narayan, director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj, said Akhilesh will continue to remain a political force in UP but did not rule out the possibility of the SP chief facing difficulty in keeping his flock together in the future.
This election, the SP partnered with four regional outfits — the RLD, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), the Janwadi Socialist Party (JSP), and the Mahan Dal. Moreover, 13 MLAs — including three ministers from the BJP government, one of them Swami Prasad Maurya, a prominent non-Yadav OBC face — resigned from the BJP and switched over to the SP fold.
Narayan said although Akhilesh has teamed up with leaders who have a vote base among non-Yadav OBCs, how he manages to keep the flock together in the near future remains to be seen.
“The Muslim-Yadav vote base will continue to help Akhilesh but he will have to keep the parties with other caste vote base together now. A political churning in UP in the coming few days cannot be ruled out,” he added.
Impact of loss on SP’s future prospects in UP, alliances for 2024
Many SP leaders ThePrint spoke to admitted that they were unhappy with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s campaign for their party, claiming that it could have done them more damage than good.
“The election narrative before Mamata’s entry in the poll pitch was Yogi vs Akhilesh. However, her campaign made it a Modi vs Akhilesh pitch. That was a mistake and the party is already realising it because an anti-Modi pitch in Varanasi does not work,” a senior party leader said.
The SP leadership will now have to rethink its strategy for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the alliances it forges ahead of it, said party insiders.
Asked about the SP’s dynamics in national politics, SP chief spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary told ThePrint that the party will look into its UP situation first, and then consider what is to be done in the national arena.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)