The 2017 UP elections are not so far away. Under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav, the SP aspires for a comeback. Mayawati is trying to consolidate her Dalit base with a social-engineering strategy to incorporate the savarnas, especially Brahmins, in the party fold. She is also trying to corner the Muslim and urban middle class vote banks. Concurrently, the SP is fighting growing anti-incumbency.
The SP’s “fight back and rebuild” strategy is two-pronged: First, it is focusing on the government’s development agenda. For this purpose, alongside launching popular programmes for various social groups, the government is conducting campaigns like “Gaon Gaon Akhilesh”, an attempt to reach people by sending “sandesh raths” to villages to inform them about government welfare schemes. Further, the SP is also strengthening and deepening its caste politics, and is banking on its backward caste and extremely backward caste bases. The party plans to project Akhilesh as a development icon and Mulayam Singh Yadav will handle the caste and religious politics. The SP, with its tools of state-led development and caste polarisation, is trying to appease both Hindus and Muslims.
Though it pulled out of the Mahagathbandhan before the Bihar elections, the SP seems to have learned lessons from it. It aspires to replicate the Bihar model of electoral mobilisation in UP. On the one hand, the party wishes to amalgamate caste and development politics and, on the other, it is gearing up to mix Bihar’s model of development and social justice with the Gujarat model of corporate-led growth. While it is endeavouring to judiciously utilise state resources for the people, it is simultaneously connecting with corporate groups such as the Tatas to make combined efforts in the fields of nutrition, primary education and agriculture.
Akhilesh is making an effort to revitalise the party’s disillusioned vote banks. In the past few months, the party has taken steps on multiple fronts. The Agra-Lucknow expressway, Lucknow metro rail and an ambitious overhaul of the energy sector are some success stories. The government has planned big investments in energy, apart from projects in agriculture, urban development, health, education and skill development.
Akhilesh is targeting the aspiring urban middle class and has now shifted his focus on small-term projects with far-reaching effects, which can be completed in a year’s time. The government is planning to develop agro-based industries near the Lucknow-Agra expressway. Notwithstanding the deplorable condition of government hospitals in the state, the SP government is strengthening Medanta, a chain of corporate hospitals. The government is making efforts to appease the urban lower middle class by initiating low-cost housing projects like the Samajwadi Awas Yojana. Schemes such as the Kamdhenu Dairy Scheme are targeted at rural voters. Additionally, Akhilesh has cleared a 165-point Uttar Pradesh Development Agenda for the year 2015-16, with a focus on governance in rural areas through the use of technology. To appease minorities, OBCs and SCs, the government has initiated several popular schemes for education and marriage of girls. For the rural poor, there is free treatment in government hospitals and various Samajvadi schools have also been opened.
Mulayam is shouldering the responsibility of the second front of the election campaign: Capitalising on the backward class vote bank. Sharpening his pro-reservation image, the SP leader has been enticing caste groups that benefit from reservation to form a consolidated vote bank. He has reiterated his stand that 17 of the most backward castes should be included in the SC quota.
During its regime, the SP has made efforts to appease the Hindu community — in order to take on the BJP — through schemes like the Samajwadi Shravan Yatra, developing Hindu religious sites, planting Parijat trees around the 84-Kosi Yatra in Ayodhya, laying the foundation stone of the world’s tallest temple in Mathura, a bhajan sandhya amphitheatre in Ayodhya, etc.
The SP has also been trying to address its internal contestations and factional politics. The party is trying to incorporate new election strategies and use social media, new technologies, digital campaigns and print advertisements.