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SP looks beyond Muslims & Yadavs, opens door to all castes to consolidate base

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Party chief Akhilesh Yadav likely to constitute a new team, select leaders from non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits

Agra: In a bid to expand its vote base and strengthen its position in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP) is set to look beyond its core constituency of Muslims and Yadavs and appoint leaders from all castes in key organisational posts.

The SP move comes after the Narendra Modi government’s decision to constitute a committee to look into sub-categorisation of OBCs, which is seen as an attempt by the BJP to attract non-Yadav OBC voters.

Akhilesh Yadav, who was re-elected SP president at the party’s national convention held in Agra Thursday, will handpick his team soon. Sources told ThePrint he is likely to pick leaders from non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits and offer them key positions in the party.

Signs of a realignment of castes within the SP national were visible at the party’s Agra convention, which was addressed by leaders from different communities such as Naresh Agarwal, Ram Aasre Kushwaha, Bishambhar Prasad Nishad, Rakesh Pal and Ramji Lal Suman. Apart from Agarwal, no one had spoken at any party forum earlier.

Among Yadavs, only three leaders — Ram Gopal Yadav, leader of the opposition in Uttar Pradesh, Ram Govind Choudhary, and Akhilesh himself addressed the delegates. The rest were a mix of OBC, upper caste, Dalit and Muslim faces.

“We are trying to make it a party for all castes. The national convention should send out this message to all sections of the society,” a party source told ThePrint.

“Post Mandal, Mulayam Singh Yadav became the leader of OBCs. But the situation is different now. Too many Yadavs in the hierarchy make other OBCs uncomfortable and there was a considerable shift in favour of the BJP of late. Akhilesh must know it very well,” said Sanjay Kumar, director, Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi.

“The Samajwadi Party has achieved the peak in terms of Muslim-Yadav votes,” said Sudhir Panwar, a sociologist at Lucknow University, who contested the last assembly election on a SP ticket. “Until you add new segments, it is not going to help you.”

In his speech Thursday, Akhilesh highlighted how traders were suffering due to demonetisation and GST and appealed to them to support SP.

“The party you have supported so far has made your lives miserable with demonetisation and GST. Come with us and we promise to protect your business interests,” the former UP chief minister said.

The SP is also considering fielding an OBCs or a Dalit candidate from Phulpur Lok Sabha seat, which is lying vacant after BJP’s Keshav Maurya took charge as deputy CM of Uttar Pradesh.

According to a party source, if the BJP fields an OBCs from the seat, the SP may nominate current Saidpur MLA Subhash Pasi. Phulpur has a sizeable Pasi (scheduled caste) vote bank.

“This is not new; it has been happening ever since Akhilesh took charge of the party president in January,” said Sunil Singh Sajan, party MLC and spokesperson. “It was evident in the ticket distribution as well. Earlier, the party would give maximum tickets to Muslims in west UP as there were not many Yadavs. But this time it was different.”

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