Days after the Samajwadi Party (SP) lost its strongholds of Azamgarh and Rampur to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the UP Lok Sabha bypolls, the leadership of the principal Opposition, especially party president Akhilesh Yadav, has come in for sharp criticism from within and outside the party.
Among the principal reasons listed by local SP leaders as well as the party’s main ally Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) for these humiliating losses are included Akhilesh’s curious decision to stay away from the campaigning in these constituencies besides his bid not to put any aggressive efforts to retain the crucial seats. While Azamgarh seat was vacated by Akhilesh himself, Rampur was vacated by senior party leader Azam Khan days after they were elected in the UP Assembly polls in March.
The SP leadership has sought a report from the party’s Azamgarh district president Hawaldar Yadav, asking him to give an assessment of the poll outcome. It has however not sought any such report from his Rampur counterpart Virendra Goyal who, when contacted, said there was no need to prepare a report as “they all know the reasons behind losing the seat”.
Referring to the BSP chief Mayawati, a senior BSP leader said although she did not go to Azamgarh for campaigning for her candidate there (BSP did not field any candidate in Rampur), she addressed a press conference a couple of days before the June 23 polling, appealing to voters, especially Dalits and Muslims, to support her party candidate.
Subscriber Only Stories
The BJP contested the bypoll with full force and strength as they would contest any general elections. Over two dozen ministers were given the task to hold meetings in areas belonging to their castes and communities even as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself led from the front, campaigning and addressing public meetings in both the constituencies.
The SP chief however did not step out for campaigning even as party leaders from Azamgarh and Rampur kept sending him their requests, urging him to address at least one public meeting in each constituency. Especially in Azamgarh, his own constituency, where the party fielded his cousin Dharmendra Yadav, local leaders kept waiting for Akhilesh’s campaign schedule as everybody could sense the challenge posed to Dharmendra’s prospects by BSP candidate Shah Alam, a local leader popularly known as Guddu Jamali, by splitting the Muslim votes to the advantage of the BJP candidate Dinesh Lal Yadav, the popular Bhojpuri actor-singer popularly known as Nirahua. But, leave aside physical campaigning, Akhilesh did not even issue an appeal to its voters like Mayawati, a party leader rued.
In his public meetings during his campaign, Dharmendra kept telling people that it was actually Akhilesh’s election, but failed to convince them about the latter’s involvement in the bypoll, the leader added.
Speaking to The Indian Express, SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar said, “Akhilesh ji is not coming out of AC (air-conditioner). He is not taking the lesson from the 2022 Assembly results. Just like he announced candidates in Assembly polls on the last date of nominations, he did the same in Rampur and Azamgarh. He was supposed to go out for public meetings but he did not.”
Pointing out that the BSP divided Muslim votes in Azamgarh, Rajbhar charged that the UP administration and the BSP both helped the BJP in the bypolls.
He also said that the SP should realise that Yadavs and Muslims were not its “bandhua majdoor (bonded labourers)”. “SP should have fielded candidate from another caste. After Akhilesh ji resigned from Lok Sabha membership, he was supposed to consult with Azamgarh leaders and announce the candidate. He himself should have gone to address public meetings,” he added.
Despite making alliance with various smaller parties with non-Yadav OBC base, the SP lost the Assembly elections to the incumbent BJP.
The SP’s Azamgarh Sadar MLA and senior leader, Durga Prasad Yadav, said that the BSP allegedly conspired to help the BJP. He, however, refused to make any comments when asked whether Akhilesh’s absence from the campaign field was a factor in determining the bypoll results.
However, another SP leader in Azamgarh said, “We lost the seat with a very narrow margin. If Akhilesh ji had addressed one or two meetings here, his presence would have strengthened the trust of Muslims and Yadavs and certainly SP would have got more votes. Movement of senior leaders matters even in small elections.”
On Akhilesh’s absence from the campaign in Azamgarh, Hawaldar said, “Voters voted in the name of Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Samajwadi Party.” As regards Rampur, Virendra said there were various factors behind the party’s loss in the constituency, a known Azam bastion, and that “party leadership has been informed about it”.
In Azamgarh, Nirahua defeated Dharmendra with a margin of 8,679 votes. Guddu Jamali played spoil sport for the SP as he got 2.66 lakh votes, sealing Dharmendra’s fate.
In Rampur, the SP gave ticket to Azam’s aide Asim Raja on his demand, but Asim lost the seat to the BJP’s Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi with a margin of 42,192 votes.
In photos: A wrap of what happened in Pune this week