SP sheds Muslim-Yadav tag, plays Dalit and OBC card

The SP is building on its 2022 Assembly poll strategy to woo SC, OBC votes; in “historic move”, fields Dalit candidates in two general seats; appeals directly to Kurmi voters, rather than through allies

April 20, 2024 08:40 pm | Updated April 21, 2024 01:03 am IST - GHAZIABAD

 Samajwadi Party (SP) Chief Akhilesh Yadav waves to the supporters during a public meeting in support of party candidate from Meerut seat Sunita Verma for the Lok Sabha polls, in Lucknow on Saturday. Credit: Samajwadi Party-X

Samajwadi Party (SP) Chief Akhilesh Yadav waves to the supporters during a public meeting in support of party candidate from Meerut seat Sunita Verma for the Lok Sabha polls, in Lucknow on Saturday. Credit: Samajwadi Party-X | Photo Credit: ANI

In a bid to shed its Muslim-Yadav image, the Samajwadi Party has cut down on the number of candidates from these communities in its distribution of tickets for the ongoing Lok Sabha election. So far, out of 57 declared candidates, there are only four Muslims and four Yadavs. Overall, the party is contesting 62 seats in U.P.

Apart from 17 reserved seats, the SP has fielded two Scheduled Caste candidates from the general seats in Meerut and Ayodhya, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is heavily relying on the appeal of Lord Ram. These constituencies will vote in the second and third phases.

To make up for the loss of Pallavi Patel from erstwhile all Apna Dal (Kamerwadi), the SP has fielded nine Kurmi candidates out of 28 from other backward classes (OBCs). To nullify the damage caused by the resignation of Swami Prasad Maurya and to take advantage of the BJP’s internal tussle over the position of Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, the SP has given six tickets to candidates from the Shakya, Maurya, Saini, and Kushwaha communities. The party has also fielded five candidates from the Nishad and Bind communities, which fall under the most backward group.

‘Historic move’

Speaking to The Hindu, the SP’s founding member and Rajya Sabha MP Ramjilal Suman described the candidature of two Dalits from general seats as a “historic move”, saying that it would send “the right message to the Dalits.” The party, he said, has “lived up to its promise of giving political representation to backward classes and Dalits under its slogan of PDA [a Hindi acronym referring to a coalition of backward classes, Dalits, and minorities].” He added that it would work as the antidote to the politics of hatred spread by the BJP.

From Ayodhya, the SP has fielded senior party leader Awadhesh Prasad. Hailing from the Pasi community, he is a nine-time MLA and currently represents the Milkipur Assembly seat in Ayodhya. In Meerut, the party has pitched a woman Jatav candidate, Sunita Verma. She has been the chairman of the municipal corporation and is the wife of influential Dalit leader and former MLA Yogesh Verma who grew in stature with the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Mr. Suman pointed out that Meerut and Ayodhya have a substantial number of Dalit voters. “Muslims and Yadavs were the party’s traditional voters and understood the party’s much-needed focus on non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits,” he said. The veteran Dalit leader said that the move also made ideological sense because the thoughts of Bhimrao Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia resonated with each other. “Had Ambedkar not passed away in 1956, the Republic Party and the Socialist Party would have merged with each other,” he said.

Wooing Kurmis directly

Senior SP leader and campaign manager Muneer Ahmad said that the party’s assessment had revealed that it was better to focus on the Kurmis and Mauryas, directly rather than going through leaders whose influence has diminished. “Even if we get 50% of the Kurmi vote, we would be able to defeat Apna Dal (Sonelal),” he said. The SP is also strengthening the legacy of its founding member, the late Beni Prasad Verma who was from Kurmi community, by fielding his granddaughter Shreya Verma from Gonda. Mr. Ahmad said that the push to woo Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs started in 2022 itself, and is part of party president Akhilesh Yadav’s plan to outwit the BJP’s caste calculus.

However, it will not be easy to implement the new directions at the ground level. Changing the image of the ‘cycle’ — the SP’s poll symbol — in the minds of SC voters will take time, said Meerut-based Dalit activist Sushil Gautam. “Most Jatavs vote for the symbol of BSP and not the candidate. In Meerut, they could see Ms. Verma as a deserter of [BSP supremo Mayawati] Behenji’s cause. Also, Haji Yaqoob who lost to the BJP in 2019 by a very thin margin is still canvassing for the BSP,” he said.

Local observers also note that in the mayoral elections last year, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) candidate had finished second, pushing the SP to the third spot. The Assaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM will not lightly cede the Muslim vote to the SP. Similarly, the way the BJP has brought back discontented regional leaders like Dharam Singh Saini at the last minute, and has employed Haryana Chief Minister Nayab Singh Saini in western U.P. indicates that the ruling party is up to the challenge of the ‘Cycle’s’ new direction.

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