How The Samajwadi Party Engineered A Comeback In UP

Swarajya Staff

Jun 05, 2024, 01:08 PM | Updated Jun 19, 2024, 01:37 PM IST

Akhilesh Yadav won from Kannauj.
Akhilesh Yadav won from Kannauj.

Akhilesh Yadav ran a loud and spirited campaign in the run-up to the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

With large crowds thronging his roadshows and star-studded rallies, it seemed that the Samajwadi Party (SP) had finally gained the momentum it needed to close the gap with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and may even outdo it in the elections.

But weeks later, when the election results came, the SP was nowhere close to upsetting the BJP prospects, let alone form a government in the state.

In 2024 however, the party had managed to damage the BJP, by largely fixing what went wrong for it in 2022.

The chief among these was its failure to woo non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who constitute about 35 per cent of the population.

Strongest among the opposition parties in UP, the SP became the default choice for the groups voting against the BJP. Given the bipolar nature of the contest, the party ended up with its best performance in an election in terms of vote share. Even before the elections, it was clear that the party's social base of Yadavs (11 per cent) and Muslims (19 per cent), meticulously built by Mulayam Singh Yadav over decades, was consolidating behind it.

While results have confirmed it, Akhilesh Yadav knew that the Yadav-Muslim base wasn't enough to defeat the BJP. To expand his party's limited support base, he forged an alliance with some non-Yadav OBC groups in the state. 

The party tried to stitch an alliance with non-Yadav OBC groups in 2022 as well, but it didn't work out because of, among other things, the fear of Yadav-waad.

The din from Akhilesh Yadav's rallies, dotted with red cap-wearing supporters drawn from the party's cadre and its immediate social base, was failing to bury the whispers about the fear of 'Yadavisation'. If anything, it was making the non-Yadav OBCs uneasy.

A majority of those who voted in these elections have lived through at least two SP regimes in recent years, one led by Mulayam Singh between 2003 and 2007 and the other by Akhilesh Yadav between 2012 and 2017.

The memory of the installation of people belonging to the social groups close to the party at every point of interaction between the people and the government, from police stations to Panchayati Raj institutions, is still fresh, and resentment against it very much alive.

The resentment against 'Yadavisation' is the highest among non-Yadav OBCs. These communities, which share the quota reserved for OBCs with the Yadavs, feel that they lose employment opportunities because of the policy under SP regimes of favouring Yadav candidates. Many from these communities say that they have been denied the benefit of reservation because Yadavs have gained far more than their population warrants. 

This feeling stems from the very real 'Yadavwaad' that the state has seen and lived through under SP regimes. For example, 36 per cent of the constables recruited under Mulayam Singh's reign in 2005-06 were Yadavs. 

In 2017, a CSDS poll revealed that 54 per cent people in the state believe Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government had benefited only the Yadavs.

In fact, the SP's messaging in the months ahead of the 2022 elections reinforced the fear of Yadavisation. For instance, at one of his pressers during the campaign, Akhilesh Yadav said that the direction of "buldozer", which had become the symbol of Yogi Adityanath government's tough action against mafias in the state, will change once the SP comes to power. His ebullient supporters later made up for the ambiguity in the statement.

This and many such instances were seen as a warning of retribution by non-Yadav caste groups, especially the non-Yadav OBCs, who had supported the BJP in 2014 and 2017.

In 2024, the party avoided projecting certain sentiments, as seen in various strategic decisions made in the lead-up to the elections.

First, confident in its core support from Muslim and Yadav voters and aiming to attract non-Yadav OBCs, the SP nominated only five Yadav candidates for its 62 seats, all of whom are from the family of party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav.

This contrasts with 2019, when the SP fielded 10 Yadav candidates out of 37, and 2014, when it contested 78 seats and included 12 Yadav candidates, four of whom were from Mulayam’s family.

The SP's 2024 candidate slate also included 27 candidates from other OBCs, 11 from upper castes (comprising four Brahmins, two Thakurs, two Vaishyas, and one Khatri), and four Muslims. Additionally, the party nominated 15 Dalit candidates for SC-reserved seats.

Second, Akhilesh Yadav introduced a new slogan to broaden his voter base from "M-Y" (Muslim-Yadav) to "PDA" (Pichde, Dalits, Alpasankhyak, meaning backward classes or OBCs, Dalits, and minorities).

Moreover, Akhilesh Yadav consistently advocated for a caste census, arguing that such a survey in UP would ensure that communities receive an equitable share of reservations and access to government schemes based on their population proportion.

This push, combined with his efforts to counter the BJP's welfare promises with his own pledge for 'free aata-data', appears to have resonated with voters in 2024.

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