UP: Akhilesh looks set to 'Cycle' back to power?

Pradeep Kapoor

The Samajwadi Party's alliance with the Congress will help them reap rich electoral dividends

The recently announced alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress was made possible by the personal initiative of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra. The genesis of their alliance lies in their mutual determination to stop the BJP from coming to power.

Although Akhilesh has claimed that his party was capable of coming to power on its own, the hard reality is that the alliance with Congress was mooted in the first place because it had the potential of fetching both parties a combined tally of 300 seats.

Rewind to a few months ago when Akhilesh was involved in an intense power struggle with his own family over the question of leadership and ownership of party symbol. Akhilesh had made it crystal clear that he would go ahead with the alliance with Congress despite opposition from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal.

After consolidating his position as national president of the SP and gaining approval from the Election Commission(EC) for using the cycle as an electoral symbol, Akhilesh went ahead with the alliance. Both parties mutually decided to allocate 105 seats for the Congress and retain 298 seats for the SP.

Any astute political observer would interpret Akhilesh joining hands with Rahul Gandhi as a big development in light of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

There was a growing realisation in the Samajwadi Party camp as well as Congress that unless they joined forces, it would prove tough for them to take on the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

An important role was played for the alliance by the team of campaign experts from Harvard University camping in Lucknow along with Congress strategist Prashant Kishore.

It would be worth mentioning here that the Congress had organised a 'khat yatra' in which Rahul Gandhi attempted to connect with farmers across the state. The yatra led to the coining of the campaign slogan ‘ 27 saal UP behal'. It had created palpable enthusiasm among the rank and file of the party.

The Congress-SP alliance has dented the confidence of rivals BJP and BSP who were expecting to exploit the infighting in the Yadav family.

To counter this Mayawati is playing an aggressive Dalit-Muslim card. She has given more tickets to minorities and Dalits this time around. How effective this tactic will be, remains to be seen. The consolidation of the SP cadre behind Akhilesh and the alliance with Congress has paved the way for unprecedented mobilisation of Muslim support for the duo of Akhilesh and Rahul.

During the last assembly polls, the SP had a 50 percent vote share amongst Muslims compared to the 20 percent garnered by BSP and the 18 percent garnered by the Congress.

The young duo of Akhilesh and Rahul will also attract young voters who constitute a significant chunk of the voter base. The huge turnout of youth at a joint rally of Akhilesh and Rahul is empirical evidence of this.

During my visit to Agra, I met Surbhi, a young student. Surbhi was disillusioned with the Modi government. She said that last time she had voted for Modi who had sold dreams that never materialised. Clearly miffed by demonetisation, she said that this time she would support young leaders Akhilesh and Rahul. Surbhi's opinions are shared by many young voters.

Prominent political scientist Dr Ramesh Dixit pointed out that both Akhilesh and Rahul are perceived as being clean and honest. This image could help them reap rich electoral dividends among the 18-35 year old demographic.

The only problem for the alliance in general and Samajwadi in particular are the inopportune statements that Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Shivpal Yadav keep on making from time to time.Their erratic behaviour, if not kept in check may well damage the prospects of this grand alliance.

The threat to the union arises not only from well-known rivals like BSP and BJP but also from fringe players like the Lok Dal who are doling out tickets to those local bigwigs who were denied by Akhilesh. Those filing nominations from Lok Dal are raising slogans in support of Shivpal Yadav.

Although seat sharing is a major problem for the SP and Congress that may lead to some friction, in the final analysis, it is the diktat of Akhilesh and Rahul that will prevail.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, it must be reiterated that it is only because of the alliance with the Congress that the SP is now in a position to take on BSP and BJP in what will probably be a tight three-cornered election.