Wooing back the Muslims in UP will be tough for Mulayam Singh Yadav
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow
Is it the end of the road for Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brand of politics? Mulayam's dynastic ambitions and his party got a solid drubbing in the recently concluded by-elections for the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat and 11 assembly seats. This has unnerved the Ahir leader who has been dominating the political scene for three decades now.
The complete loss of Muslim support and a dent in his core caste base by other political parties was visible in the by-elections where the SP put up a poor show. The party could not retain even the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat where Mulayam's son, Akhilesh Yadav, had won by a good margin few months back. Here, Akhilesh's wife, Dimple Yadav, lost to Congress candidate, Raj Babbar, by a big margin of 85,000 votes.
The SP also lost five sitting assembly seats to the ruling BSP. The decline in vote percentage is evident - its candidates lost their deposit in all five constituencies.
Political analysts feel Mulayam's alliance with Kalyan Singh has cost him dear. That is the primary reason which has alienated Muslims from the SP and contributed to the party's string of defeats since the Lok Sabha polls. In the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, the SP lost 18 seats, its biggest loss since 2004. Clearly its future is in a shadow.
Firozabad has been a SP stronghold and its candidate Ramji Lal Suman has won successive elections. Mulayam was confident of a win with the strong presence of Yadavs and Muslims, SP's traditional pillars of strength. With Kalyan Singh as an ally, backward Lodh Rajput votes were expected to consolidate in favour. To ensure the win of daughter-in-law, Dimple, Mulayam even enlisted the support of RLD leader, Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Choudhry, apart from Jaya Prada, Jaya Bachchan and Amar Singh.
All the efforts proved meaningless. The electorate, it seemed, favoured Rahul Gandhi's development agenda over Mulayam's caste politics. The Muslims were unhappy with Mulayam for befriending Kalyan, who is blamed for the demolition of Babri Masjid. Kalyan even failed to get the Lodh Rajputs to vote for Dimple, though he and his son, Rajbir Singh, campaigned for her.
All these factors led to the Congress victory. Rahul had earlier announced that after winning, Raj Babbar would work for the constituency's development with him. That seemed to have struck a chord.
Besides Firozabad, the loss of the two assembly seats - Etawah and Bharthana - in Mulayam's home turf, came as a shocker. It proved that even the Yadavs were not happy with the ways of Mulayam and his dynasty.
At a review meeting after the by-elections, SP leaders who were defeated, cited the Kalyan factor as the reason why Muslims deserted the party. They blamed Amar Singh for his statement made in Lucknow which antagonised the Muslims. A large number of Muslim leaders of the SP were so upset with Mulayam's pact with Kalyan that they had quit the party. Prominent among them is Mohammad Azam Khan of Rampur, considered the Muslim face of the party. Other important Muslim leaders who deserted the SP included Salim Sherwani, Shafiqur Rehman Barq and Shahid Siddiqui.
But this was not always so. At one time, the Yadav chieftain was known as 'Maulana Mulayam'. His stature as a leader of the Muslims grew when he took a bold stand on the Babri Masjid issue in 1990. As the chief minister of UP, he ordered firing on kar sevaks to protect the mosque. Even as his Muslim support base strengthened, Mulayam wrested power in 1993, 1995 and 2002. In the Lok Sabha elections, the SP won 39 seats in 2004.
Over the years, his popularity declined. He was accused of promoting his family members to top positions. His brother, Shivpal Singh Yadav, was the party president in UP. He is now leader of the opposition in the UP Assembly, while Mulayam's son, Akhilesh, has taken over as the state president. His cousin, Ram Gopal Yadav, and nephew, Dharmendra Yadav, are MPs. His daughter-in-law, Dimple, lost the Firozabad by-election.
The first thing Mulayam did after the rout was to distance himself from Kalyan Singh. He is now out to woo back the Muslims. The SP held a grand reception in Lucknow for Abu Asim Azmi, MLA from Maharashtra, who was manhandled by MLAs from Raj Thackrey's MNS in the assembly for taking oath in Hindi. An attempt was made to gather a large number of Muslims for the felicitation function in Lucknow. Now, Azmi is being projected as the new Muslim face of the party.
Mulayam has now demanded that the Babri mosque should be built in Ayodhya. He announced that the SP would launch an agitation from December 6. On his birthday, Mulayam met Muslim clerics and assured them that his party would fight for the community. He admitted that a section of the Muslim community had been misguided by certain elements. To this, Azam Khan said that Muslims will not be taken for a ride anymore.
Wooing back the Muslims will be tough for the 2012 assembly polls in UP. The Congress is emerging as a strong force and Muslims are returning to it after a long gap. The BSP too is trying hard to attract the Muslims and voters of the most backward castes (MBCs).