Uttar Pradesh 2022: Akhilesh Yadav's Loud Campaign Failed To Bury Whispers About The Very Real Fears Of 'Yadavwaad'
Not just welfare and vikas, Akhilesh Yadav's outreach to the non-Yadav Other Backward Caste groups and Dalits ran into the genuine fear of 'Yadavisation'.
Instead of alleviating that fear, the Samajwadi Party's messaging in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh elections reinforced it.
Akhilesh Yadav ran a loud and spirited campaign in the run-up to the elections in Uttar Pradesh. With large crowds thronging his endless roadshows and start-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. Or at least that is what the mainstream media told us.
Strongest among the opposition parties, 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 exit of some leaders belonging to these caste groups from the BJP just weeks ahead of the polls and their subsequent induction into the SP was seen as a success of Akhilesh Yadav's social engineering.
Except, as the results show now, it was not the case, at least not to the extent that the SP required it to defeat the BJP.
But to anyone who had spent time on the ground in the hinterland interacting with voters, the disconnect between the SP and non-Yadav OBC and Dalit communities was visible even before the votes were cast. 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 them 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. Interestingly, IPS officer S K Mishra, who was appointed by the Mayawati government to investigate the irregularities in police recruitment under Mulayam Singh, had to seek voluntary retirement from service within a week after Akhilesh Yadav took oath as Chief Minister in 2012.
The 'Yadavisation' of Uttar Pradesh police, which continued even under Akhilesh Yadav between 2012 and 2017, was seen as one of the many reasons why 'gunda raj', which the SP is now infamous for (like its cousin in Bihar, Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal), thrived in the state. Emboldened by the SP's rise to power, social groups close to the party indulged in caste-based score-settling while darogas watched or even participated, confident of their survival due to party patronage.
For instance, in 2014, when two minor girls belonging to the Shakya/Maurya (a non-Yadav OBC group) were allegedly raped and hanged in Badaun (the case which inspired Ayushmann Khurrana starrer 'Article 15'), at least 16 out of 22 police stations in the area were headed by Yadav officers. The three main accused in the case were also Yadavs. Like in many such cases, local police were accused of inaction.
Meanwhile, many commentators have also argued that the BJP tapped the fear of SP's return. While the BJP did actively try to cash in on this sentiment among the non-Yadav OBCs and, to some extent, even Dalits (and has done so in past elections in UP), it would not have worked to the extent it did had the SP done enough to assuage the sentiment against it. In fact, the SP's messaging in the months ahead of the elections in Uttar Pradesh reinforced the fear of Yadavisation.
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 the 2014 and 2017 elections.
Akhilesh Yadav's hubris and pronouncements by neutral looking but biased observers of SP improving chances vis-a-vis the BJP, aimed at enthusing the supporters of the party, alarmed those who did not want to see it in power and forced them to vote for the BJP even if they had a grouse about the party. For others, the fear of 'Yadavwaad' was one more reason apart from welfare and vikas to choose the BJP over SP.
A post-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that only 24 per cent of the non-Yadav OBCs (two-fifths of UP's electorate) voted for the SP in this election. 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.
It was no surprise that Swami Prasad Maurya, one of the most prominent non-Yadav OBC faces of the BJP, whose exit from the party just weeks before the elections and subsequent entry into the SP was sold as a consequence of the assumed shift of the non-Yadav OBC voters, lost his seat in Purvanchal with a margin of over 40,000 votes.
Akhilesh Yadav did little to alleviate the fear of 'Yadav hegemony' under the SP and focused only on social engineering. But, as it turned out, social engineering doesn't work in a vacuum.
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