The complete defeat of the Samajwadi Party in its two political bastions, Rampur and Azamgarh, has stunned all and sundry, including the Bharatiya Janata Party’s leadership.
BJP’s Uttar Pradesh tally has now gone from 63 to 65 in the Lok Sabha. The state has 80 members in the Lower House.
More than numbers, the loss is painful for SP as the two seats were held by the party’s most significant leaders.
The Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat was held by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, and Rampur, by Azam Khan. Both had won in the 2019 general election. The by-election came after decisions by these two leaders to opt for assembly seats after the March 2022 state Vidhan Sabha elections.
SP had managed to rise from humiliating defeat in 2017 – when it plummeted to a paltry 46 seats in the 403-member UP assembly – to a respectable level of 111 (125, with allies) in 2022. So what explains this defeat?
Political observers broadly blame it on Akhilesh Yadav, who chose not to campaign even once in either of the constituencies.
While the party’s official spokespersons sought to attribute this to Akhilesh’s “preoccupation with a number of things”, according to some insiders, “Akhilesh bhaiya considered it below his level to campaign for a by-poll in places where even top BJP leaders had not cared to visit.”
Even after Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath campaigned for his party in both Azamgarh and Rampur, Akhilesh was not compelled to follow course.
Ironically, this defeat has given SP an opportunity to create history of sorts. In most by-polls, it is the opposition which usually scores over ruling parties. But the tradition was reversed this time, and Akhilesh’s over-confidence and political immaturity seem largely to blame.
In the bargain, a feather got added to the ruling BJP’s cap and more particularly, Adityanath, who has proclaimed the two victories as a “win” for his own “good governance”. Many term it as a referendum for the much hyped “double-engine government.”
The loss of these two parliamentary constituencies becomes even more significant as it was the first time that the Samajwadi Party’s lethal combine of Muslim-Yadav votes had failed to work on its most fertile ground. While Rampur has a 60% Muslim population, it is the Musim-Yadav combine that has traditionally dominated the political turf of Azamgarh.
In Rampur, it was clearly Azam Khan’s over-confidence that brought the party to the most unexpected defeat. Azam Khan seemed pretty sure that he could ensure victory for anyone nominated by him. And that confidence came from not only his old grip over the constituency but also from the wave of sympathy that he expected for himself on account of his 27-month long incarceration after the Adityanath government slapped more than 80 criminal cases against him.
Azam fielded his close confidante Aseem Raza in the hope that he would easily sail through, but received the biggest blow when the results came out, giving a clear win to BJP’s Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi with a handsome margin of 42,200 votes.
Sharp polarisation and strong consolidation of Hindu votes in his favour were seen as the key reasons for the defeat of Azam’s nominee, who could not enlist even marginal non-Muslim support. The Yadav population in Rampur is quite insignificant, while the strategic selection of a candidate from the Lodhi backward community enlisted the mass support of all non-Yadav OBCs for BJP.
A visibly angry Azam Khan has blamed it all on the ruling dispensation, whom he has accused of “misusing local government machinery” to manipulate the polling process.
What was also true is that throughout the campaign, Azam was heard training his guns more at the erstwhile Rampur Nawab’s family than at the BJP. His anger towards the old feudal lord has been widely known and was also responsible for his own rise in politics, but today the Nawab’s family is a spent political force. Wasting time and energy on them is a futile exercise.
In Azamgarh, Akhilesh Yadav could not remotely imagine the defeat of his nominee and first cousin Dharmendra Yadav simply because the seat had been with the Yadav clan for quite sometime. Even in the BJP wave of 2014, it was bagged by Mulayam Singh Yadav and subsequently inherited by Akhilesh in 2019. More recently, in the UP state election of March 2022, Azamgarh was the one parliamentary constituency where all the 10 assembly segments went to the Samajwadi Party.
Apparently, behind Akhilesh’s decision to field his uncle’s son was very little consideration of factors at play.
Dharmendra Yadav, who was earlier the MP from Budaun, was considered a complete political alien in Azamgarh. It is said that Akhilesh disregarded the demand of his own local supporters to field his wife Dimple Yadav. The next choice was an old party hand, Rama Kant Yadav, a widely known and well entrenched local leader. But his ticket was dropped after he asked the party leadership to provide him with the funds to contest the polls. Finally, Akhilesh hand-picked his cousin, taking local voters’ support the Yadav clan for granted.
What he also failed to take into account was Bahujan Samaj Party’s move of fielding a popular Muslim leader Shah Alam, better known as Guddu Jamali. It is an open secret that BSP supremo was serving BJP’s purpose of digging into SP’s Muslim vote bank. Guddu Jamali not only made it a triangular contest but also brought about a division of the Muslim vote, that eventually ensured a clear victory for the BJP candidate.
Jamali has an interesting political past. He had walked out of BSP in November 2021 and was seeking an SP ticket to contest for the Mubarakpur assembly seat in Azamgarh in March 2022. But Akhilesh Yadav did not consider him suitable enough, so Jamali switched loyalties to Asaduddin Owasi’s AIMIM, only to lose the election. Mayawati hand-picked him for the Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat as soon as the by-poll was announced. Jamali won as many as 266,000 votes, nearly 40,000 fewer than Dharmendra Yadav and 48,000 behind the winning BJP nominee.
Akhilesh, issuing tweets and making statements on social media, had been blissfully unaware of the obvious underhand deals that were being struck between BSP and BJP.
Supporters of the SP believe Akhilesh is yet to learn the lessons of the March 2022 election defeat and has certainly failed to take the bull by the horns this time.
It will now be an uphill task for him and his party to spring back when the nation goes to the far more crucial general election in 2024.