The opportunity for the Samajwadi Party in an election after the dust around the pandemic has settled is immense. Yet, its success will depend upon whether Akhilesh Yadav can step to the challenge.
In Uttar Pradesh, there is much at stake as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party buckle up to face each other in one of the keenly watched political battles in India. The outcome of the elections in Uttar Pradesh, which comes on the back of a disastrous second, and possibly a third, wave of Covid-19, will test the mettle of the BJP’s so-called election-winning machinery, with a clear and present danger of a massive public backlash. For the Samajwadi Party under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav, the opportunity is as big as the challenge at hand. Not only does Akhilesh need to prove that he can lead his party to power after a bitter battle for supremacy within his family, he also needs to appear as the voice of the voiceless and win people’s trust as an alternative to incumbent Yogi Adityanath.
The opportunity for the Samajwadi Party is immense. The government’s mishandling of the Covid crisis in the state has dealt a body blow to the popularity of CM Adityanath and the official figures from Uttar Pradesh –17,07,822 Covid cases and 22,715 deaths – hardly reveals half the story. While the opposition parties have repeatedly slammed the ruling party accusing it of under-representing the death figures while citing the cases of dead bodies found flowing in the rivers and buried along the banks of Sangam in Prayagraj, reports have also claimed that while burying bodies has been a custom of many communities in Uttar Pradesh, there was a surge in the number of bodies during the second wave.
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For Akhilesh, the opportunity at hand is a case of now or never. BJP leaders from the state have vocally expressed their unhappiness over the Yogi Adityanath government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the central leadership reposed its faith in Adityanath and is set to contest the next assembly poll with Yogi as its CM face, reports of a standoff between PM Narendra Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath did hamper the image of the government. While PM Modi praised the Yogi government for ushering in development and its “unparalleled” handling of the second wave of the pandemic, the Opposition thinks the PM’s remarks only added fuel to the fire.
“I think Modi ji deliberately praised Yogi Adityanath. People are angry and Yogi’s MLAs are not able to visit their constituencies. A leader who did nothing during the crisis and then you praise him so much that people feel betrayed. There are villages where almost every family suffered losses. Try praising Modi ji and Yogi ji inside that village and you will come to know the reality, the truth,” said Rajeev Rai giving an example of Sohaon block where around 42 people of a village succumbed to COVID-19 within a month.
While the true cumulative extent of the damage that the pandemic has left in UP may never be known, the challenge for Akhilesh Yadav is to emerge as a leader who is visible and can project himself as a viable alternative to the BJP. So far, the Samajwadi Party, and it’s leader Akhilesh, have failed to make their presence felt only on social media platforms. So, are they are up against the might of the BJP which is treats every election as a do-or-die battle?
Rai, National secretary and spokesman of Samajwadi Party and former Lok Sabha candidate from Ghosi, claimed that while his party and its workers were actively helping people by every means during the first and second wave of the pandemic, what was shown in the media was just the opposite.
“It’s not necessary that people will only see what is shown in the media. People can believe the reports which happened at a remote place but could not believe the fake reports about what’s happening in their backyard. People saw Samajwadi Party workers helping and providing the needy with hospitalization to oxygen to gas to ration and medical kits across the villages. Every time a report claims that the BJP helped people, villagers slam those reports,” he tells Financialexpress.com.
He claimed that even during the first lockdown when migrant workers were forced to return on foot to their hometowns, it was the Samajwadi Party which gave Rs 1 lakh to those who died on the way and also provided them with ration kits and money for medicines after verification.
Rai alleged while BJP kept running a propaganda against the Samajwadi Party, our party and its workers kept working on the ground. “People will always remember who helped them – Samajwadi Party or the BJP. It’s going to backfire for the BJP,” he said.
“At this time of tragedy, it has come to the fore that the BJP has never faced a real crisis. It’s not even in their DNA. Look into the history when our forefathers were fighting for independence, they (BJP ideologists) were against that. They are lying again and again. Everything comes with an expiry date. They are not realizing it now but it’s now backfiring,” said Rai.
The Samajwadi Party also claims that people like Jitin Prasada have no credibility and their induction is not going to work out for the BJP this time given that we all have just come out from a crisis, and the set political practices like inducting leaders of particular caste or religion have completely collapsed.
“People now only remember their pain. They are enraged. Almost every person has lost someone. Most of them have suffered due to lack of oxygen. Then you come (Modi’s recent visit to Kashi) and claim that there can’t be a better management than this. This is like rubbing salt on people’s wounds,” said Rai.
When asked whether the recent expansion of the Modi cabinet where seven ministers were inducted from Uttar Pradesh is going to help the BJP, Rai said that people are going to feel even bad about it. “People will feel even more bad about it. People will feel that an MP who did not come to check on them, didn’t care for them and now the same MP has been rewarded. Also, what work the new ministers can do in 6-7 months. After that, Moral Code of Conduct will kick in. The BJP is keeping people in a fantasy world,” said Rai.
Contrary to the opinion of a party missing in action, the Samajwadi Party claims it is working on ground and has brought in structural changes to increase its reach and win people’s trust. “We have done our silent checks. We have increased the numbers of our booth committees. We have given representation to leaders keeping in mind the caste equation. We took our assembly level structure to block level our party workers. The BJP is working in the air and we are working on the ground. By saying air, I mean TV channels and anchors working on behest of the BJP. But we have loyal workers who on grounds reaching to every person,” he said.
With the Samajwadi Party working on strengthening its foothold on the ground and Aam Aadmi Party buckling up to challenge the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has an uphill task in 2022. The massive impact of the second COVID-19 wave may have given a political schadenfreude moment to political parties, but will it help them garner votes by cashing on the sentiments? A lot will depend on leaders like Akhilesh Yadav stepping up to the challenge. Till then, it is anybody’s game!