Updated: June 11, 2022 5:18:16 am
The Samajwadi Party’s decision not to allot a single ticket to its allies for the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council elections has created fissures in its relationship with its allies, with the Mahan Dal led by Keshav Dev Maurya announcing its exit from the alliance and Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) expressing disappointment.
The disgruntled allies feel the senior SP leader Azam Khan’s imprint is all over the Opposition party’s decision and SP president Akhilesh Yadav cold-shouldered them to appease his senior party colleague. SBSP general secretary Arun Rajbhar told The Indian Express after the SP announced its decision on Wednesday, “He (Akhilesh) is going after them (Muslims), but is not seeing that the Backwards (Other Backward Classes, or OBCs) are more important for the alliance. All decisions are being made based on the directions from the senior leader (Azam). If Akhilesh ji wants to continue the alliance then he must make up his mind whether he wants us or not. Because alliances mean sharing. What is happening is the opposite.”
That all was not well between Azam and Akhilesh became apparent two months ago when Azam’s media in-charge Fasahat Ali Khan, also known as Shanu, accused the SP chief of ignoring the veteran leader. At the time, Azam was in prison. Fasahat claimed that Akhilesh had ignored the veteran leader during the over two-year period he spent in prison, and did not pay heed to the issues of the Muslim community. Questions were raised about why the SP president was not standing by the community that forms one part of its voter base and ensured a decent result in the state elections earlier this year.
Azam subsequently refused to meet a delegation sent by Akhilesh to Sitapur prison while meeting the SP chief’s uncle and Pragatsiheel Samajwadi Party chief Shivpal Yadav, who has already made it clear that he is not happy with Akhilesh and is “exploring” other options. This brought forth before the public the chasm between the SP chief and his senior party colleague. After being released from prison on May 20, Azam did not reach out to Akhilesh and refused to meet him when he visited the state Assembly to take oath as an MLA.
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With the nomination date for the Azamgarh and Rampur Lok Sabha by-elections approaching, Akhilesh visited Azam last week in a Delhi hospital where the senior leader had been admitted. Since then, the SP’s decisions have reflected its efforts to accommodate Azam’s wishes.
First, the party announced it would back former Congress leader Kapil Sibal who was Azam’s lawyer in the Supreme Court bail hearings. Party insiders said the decision to back Sibal was made following the veteran SP leader’s “advice”. Then, the party fielded Azam’s confidant Asim Raja from Rampur to fill the seat vacated by the veteran leader following his election to the UP Assembly. The announcement was made not from Lucknow but from the SP office in Rampur.
Azam’s hand is also seen in the choice of some of the MLC candidates. Shahnavaz Khan is the son of the SP’s Saharanpur leader Sarfaraz Khan who is considered close to Azam. A senior SP leader said Sarfaraz was like family to the senior leader and the two had known each other since their Janata Dal days. The other candidate with an Azam link is Jasmir Ansari, a Sitapur-based leader who apparently helped the SP veteran when he was in the district prison.
“The (Assembly) elections seemed like they were in our favour, but we lost. And these allies had expected to reap big benefits after the SP government came to power. But that did not happen, and now they are looking for reasons to leave. How can we give MLC berths to small allies like Mahan Dal when we are getting only four?” said an SP leader.
But, with his party allies expressing displeasure and his uncle Shivpal Yadav also making clear he would not stick around the Opposition party because of the “disrespect” shown to him, it remains to be seen how Akhilesh manages to keep together a viable Opposition alliance that can take on the BJP’s electoral juggernaut in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
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