It is widely noted that this time around in the Uttar Pradesh elections, the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) approach is quite different. The Akhilesh Yadav-led outfit seems to be trying to shed its “Pro-Muslim” image, simultaneously forming alliances with smaller regional parties that have traditionally held the vote of the Dalits and Other Backward Classes.
It appears that to not polarise the Hindu vote by appearing to be a Party involved in minority appeasement politics, the SP and its top leadership have taken to using more subtle strategies.
Why is SP shy about reaching out to Muslims?
Speaking to Frontier India about the SP’s need to mobilise the Dalit and OBC vote, Dr Chandrachur Singh, a political analyst, said, “Akhilesh Yadav’s strategy in UP right now is to focus on the OBC and Dalit vote. His Party already has the Yadav vote since that has been its traditional stronghold. It also has a good chunk of the Muslim vote since there aren’t any other strong contenders besides the SP that the community can vote for in these elections. The Yadav and Muslim vote puts the SP at a starting point of 38 per cent vote share. However, this is no longer enough to win.”
Dr. Singh, who is currently a professor of Political Science at Hindu College, University of Delhi, highlights that in the previous elections, the BJP was able to take a 61 to 71 per cent share of the non-Yadav OBC vote. “To win, Akhilesh Yadav and SP will have to take out a significant portion of the non-Yadav OBC vote that BJP had last year,” he said.
Noted psephologist and political commentator Professor Sanjay Kumar, from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), told Frontier India, “there is a fear that if the SP is seen as a party that is seen to be championing the cause of the minorities, mainly the Muslims, they will find it difficult to mobilise the Hindu vote and there is a possibility of counter-mobilisation.”
Muslims outreach in SP’s campaign strategy?
In the context of the SP’s campaign strategy, Dr. Singh noted that “while the strategy with the Muslims is to retain their favour by mobilising Hindus on the basis of caste, rather than a broader religion-based communal umbrella, the strategy with the OBCs and Dalits is reliant on alliances with smaller parties that have a stronghold within these communities.”
Placing his analysis in the context of the nature of the Party’s campaign and the content in the speeches of the prominent leaders of the SP, Prof. Kumar notes, “Akhilesh Yadav and maybe a couple of other big leaders- are trying to refrain from addressing anything which could be controversial with regard to Muslims and Hindus. Even when there are controversies about or issues being raised by BJP and other opposition parties about giving tickets to a couple of Muslim candidates who have tainted images, Akhilesh Yadav is being tight-lipped.”
He highlighted that the response is coming from the party spokesperson and the local level leadership.
Local leaders are vocal
“So the strategy, I think, the Party is following is to try to mobilise and keep the Muslims in good humour so that they vote in favour of the SP, but at the same time, the Party should not be seen as one that appeases Muslims at the expense of Hindus. For this, the top leadership will refrain from indulging in anything related to Muslims and Hindus. In contrast, the local leadership – candidates at the local level – will try and mobilise the Muslim vote without trying to build a very large narrative of ‘this is the party that cares for the Muslims’ or ‘we will stand for the cause of the Muslims.’ Such big narratives are being avoided by the party leaders, while the candidates who have been given tickets at the constitutional level are running with the same narrative,” he explained.
Prof. Kumar also noted that Akhilesh Yadav made the mistake of referring to Jinnah a couple of months ago, but he remains tight-lipped now. On the other hand, the spokespersons are responding almost every day.
A recent observation about SP’s subtle strategies has come from some media quarters. One particular incident being pointed at is the press conference that the Party’s National President Akhilesh Yadav conducted. At this event, prominent leader Azam Khan’s son Abdullah Khan was seated next to Yadav. Although he did not speak, his presence has been interpreted as a subtle sign to the Muslim community not to feel abandoned or completely left behind.
When asked about this incident, Prof. Kumar noted, “Even if the SP is not speaking in a loud voice and trying to mobilise the Muslims, they have to still keep giving the community some indications- to communicate that they haven’t abandoned the Muslims. So, we will see more Muslim faces in upcoming physical rallies. We will see them on the dais etc. But I still don’t think there would be anything that would be very obvious as a symbol or in speeches or posters about wooing the Muslims. But to keep them in good humour, SP will have some faces of leaders from the community accompanying the Yadav when he is on the dais.”
He also explained why the SP could afford to employ such subtle strategies. “The SP doesn’t need to be seen as very pro-Muslim. This is because the basic aim that Muslim voters have in this election is to defeat BJP. The only Party which is seen in a contest or in a position to defeat BJP is the Samajwadi Party. If there was any confusion in this regard, then I think SP would have been required to make an extra effort to woo the Muslims. Still, there is no disagreement among analysts, or any neutral observer that the contest is between SP and BJP and the former is putting up a robust challenge to the BJP,” he said.
How many Muslims will vote for SP?
Crunching the numbers, Prof. Kumar noted that a polarised Muslim vote behind the SP would mean roughly 60 to 65 per cent of Muslims voting for the SP. “This will be the highest proportion of the Muslim vote that the SP has got during the last several elections. Usually, the number is in the range of 45 to 60 per cent,” he remarked. He is also expecting the Muslim voter turnout to be exceptionally high this time around, given the high stakes and the real odds of the SP defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
What does Samajwadi Party say?
Party spokesperson and the National Executive of the SP Mahila Sabha, Juhie Singh, told Frontier India, “the Samajwadi Party has always, since its formation, worked for the Dalits, the backward sections of the society, and the minorities. If you look at all of our policies, they have been directed towards these groups along with oppressed communities and women. We have connected with the youth who have been plagued by record unemployment rates in UP. The working class has also been suffering. In our declaration, we promised to restart the old pension schemes, stop outsourcing, create jobs etc.”
“Thus, we do not have a strategy for one particular group. It would not be right to divide our politics along the lines of caste or religion. We have worked for everybody and have indulged in the politics of work (kaam ki rajneeti)” she added.
SP spokesperson Naved Siddiqui told Frontier India that the Party’s main agenda in the status quo is to save democracy. “Currently, the country, the democracy and the Constitution are in danger, and we need to save them. Akhilesh Yadav Ji has said every time that we are moving ahead with everyone. This means that we are talking about development. When we provide laptops to students, we do not look at whether they are SC, ST, OBC, or Muslim. For us, they are all ‘students’. In the same way, every person is using the expressways we built regardless of such categories. The work that we have done has been done for everyone.”
He said that on the whole, the Party has been talking about development, employment, and problems that people have faced. “We’ve seen problems in COVID times- there was a shortage of ambulances, of drivers, of oxygen, of firewood- with SP’s government, there will be sufficiency of all of these,” he said before alleging that BJP is the one that follows the politics of religion. “The British have left, but they left this divide and rule policy behind. That is the only politics that BJP follows,” he said.
Analysts and party spokespersons quite obviously differ in their opinion of the Samajwadi Party’s strategy in these Assembly elections. Either way, the poll results will be the final revealer of the strategy and how it fared.