In Uttar Pradesh, the ruling Samajwadi Party is witnessing an unforeseen reversal of fortunes. Hoping for a head start, the party had announced its list of candidates for the 2014 Lok Sabha election way back in November 2012. But now, many of those candidates, including three sitting MPs, have decided not to contest on an SP ticket.
According to party insiders, at least a dozen candidates have so far met top leaders, including party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, and expressed their inability to contest the polls next year. This has forced the party to look for replacements. Sources say that many more candidates are likely to be changed in the coming days.
Several factors are proving to be a deterrent for the SP candidates to contest the election. An impression is gaining ground that Muslims are disillusioned with the party because of the spate of communal riots that took place under the watch of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, the worst being the recent Muzaffarnagar riots. Party insiders feel that a large number of Muslims might shift their allegiance to the Congress. The apprehension of a possible electoral tie-up between the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for the 2014 polls has also dampened the morale of the SP candidates.
The first candidate to leave the SP following the Muzaffarnagar riots was senior Jat leader and former Union minister Sompal Shastri. He had been named the SP candidate from Baghpat in western Uttar Pradesh. “Only those who want to be in the good books of the UP government for their business interests aspire for an SP ticket,” says Shastri.
Soon after, four other former MLAs from the Jat community in Baghpat and Muzaffarnagar resigned from the party. Mata Prasad Pandey, who is currently the Assembly Speaker and was named the Lok Sabha candidate from Domariyaganj in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is also unwilling to take the plunge in the electoral battle in the predominantly Muslim constituency.
One of the MPs who have deserted the party is Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, who represents Kaiserganj constituency in Bahraich district. Singh was in the BJP before joining the SP, and had been elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1991 on a BJP ticket.
“People from all castes and communities vote for me. It doesn’t matter whether I am in the SP or in the BJP,” says Singh. “This time, the SP is pursuing a strange policy of keeping Muslims in constant fear by stoking communal riots. This has never happened in Uttar Pradesh in the past. The few incidents of communal violence that occurred during the previous BSP regime had been brought under control within a few hours.”
RK Singh Patel, the MP from Banda in the backward Bundelkhand region, has also deserted the SP. “I can no longer be part of the sinking ship called Samajwadi Party,” says Patel. “The party had made a plethora of promises to the people, including waiving of farm loans and many other sops for the agriculture sector, but the Akhilesh regime has failed to deliver on all counts. As I have to face tough questions from the people of my constituency, I had no option but to quit the party. I know I can never win the election in 2014 on an SP ticket.”
However, SP spokesperson Rajendra Chowdhary denied that there is any erosion in the party’s support base. “Entry and exit of leaders during the elections is a common phenomenon in UP,” he says.
Meanwhile, to limit the damage to the party’s electoral prospects caused by the Muzaffarnagar riots, Mulayam has directed the party to organise a rally on 29 October in the eastern UP district of Azamgarh, where Muslims form a significant part of the electorate. The rank and file of the party in the region have been asked to ensure that the turnout exceeds that of Narendra Modi’s Kanpur rally of 19 October. The SP supremo is also trying to woo the OBCs by organising a statewide rath yatra to demand that 17 of the castes currently under the OBC category be listed as Scheduled Castes.
But it is difficult to say whether these efforts can arrest the slide in the Samajwadi Party’s fortunes.