Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to stay away from his party’s campaign for the Rampur and Azamgarh Lok Sabha bypolls in June and the Gola Gokarnnath Assembly by-election earlier this month were cited among the reasons for the SP’s defeats in those elections. Two of the constituencies, Rampur and Azamgarh, were considered the party’s strongholds but they fell to the BJP.
Now, with his wife Dimple contesting the Mainpuri Lok Sabha bypoll, necessitated by the death of his father and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh is back on the campaign trail and has been touring Mainpuri for the past 10 days. The SP chief is leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to ensure that his family holds on to a seat that his father won five times.
“Because Akhilesh did not campaign in Azamgarh and Rampur, we lost both the Lok Sabha seats by a thin margin. The local party unit had assured him that he was not needed to campaign and they would easily win the seats. Azam Khan had taken the responsibility for Rampur after fielding his loyalist as the candidate. Had Akhilesh campaigned in the Lok Sabha bypolls, the SP would have retained the seats,” said an SP leader.
Akhilesh reached Mainpuri over a week ago, even before Dimple’s nomination was announced. Since then, the former Chief Minister has visited Lucknow only for a day and has been camping in his family’s bastion to lead the campaign, according to party insiders. Akhilesh has assigned the responsibility of election management to SP state president Naresh Uttam but himself chairs meetings with workers and reviews the SP’s canvassing efforts daily, said a local SP leader.
The SP strategy
The Mainpuri parliamentary seat consists of the five Assembly segments of Mainpuri, Bhogaon, Kishani, Karhal, and Jaswantnagar. Of these, the BJP won Mainpuri and Bhogaon in the Assembly polls earlier this year while the SP chief himself bagged Karhal and his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav won from Jaswantnagar. Party insiders said Akhilesh was concentrating on the two Assembly segments that the BJP holds. “After public meetings and workers meeting in different areas Akhilesh ensure that he meets local people for direct communication with them in the Mainpuri Sadar area daily,” said an SP leader.
The SP chief and his wife have been joined by Shivpal, with whom Akhilesh has not been on the best of terms over the years. But now, the family is presenting a united front to retain control of their citadel. On Sunday, Akhilesh and Shivpal formally announced they had come together ahead of the Lok Sabha bypoll. In the past, Jaswantnagar and Karhal, dominated by Yadav voters, have contributed the most to SP’s victories in Lok Sabha polls.
The SP president has been touring the different Assembly segments every day with Dimple to reach out to voters. On Monday, he visited an ashram to seek the blessings of Swami Hariharanand Saraswati and ate at the bhandara (feast). He also addressed a public meeting with Shivpal in Jaswantnagar. Shivpal has been addressing meetings in Jaswantnagar. At a rally on Monday, he said he would never disappoint Akhilesh and requested his nephew to recognise his “capabilities”.
Dimple has addressed meetings in Kishani, having started her campaign by meeting the SP’s women workers. She is focussing on touring rural areas and holding meetings with villagers.
Asked why Akhilesh was campaigning in Mainpuri after skipping the previous bypolls this year, SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said, “Local SP units and other senior leaders in Azamgarh and Rampur assured the party would easily win the elections he was not needed to campaign there. Now, the party does not want to take any chances in Mainpuri because it is an election of prestige. This was the seat of Neta ji (Mulayam) and Dimple ji contesting there. BJP can misuse government machinery and other tactics in this bypoll. Hence, Akhilesh ji is campaigning.”
Asked if Akhilesh would visit Rampur and Khatauli to campaign for the Assembly bypolls there, which too will be held on December 5, the SP spokesperson said, “He will certainly go to campaign there if the local party unit makes any demand.”
BJP nominee vs Shivpal
The BJP has fielded former SP MP Raghuraj Singh Shakya who last week claimed that Shivpal was his “political guru”. Another key player for the ruling party in the area is Mainpuri Sadar MLA Jayveer Singh who was included in the Cabinet and given the tourism and culture portfolio earlier this year.
Shivpal on Monday dismissed Shakya’s claim and said the BJP nominee was not his “shishya (disciple)”. Shakya quit Shivpal’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) to join the BJP earlier this year. “A person is roaming about among you and seeking votes. He is saying that he is my shishya. Leave alone being my disciple, he is not even my chela (follower). Had he been so, he would not have left clandestinely. He is an ambitious, selfish, and an opportunist.”