You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

How Samajwadi Party lost the plot in Uttar Pradesh

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-05-2014 Asit Ranjan Mishra

Bustling with activity through the year centred around its annual cultural festival, infrastructure and city-class facilities, Saifai in Etawah district is unlike any other village in Uttar Pradesh.

That’s because the village, located 300km from Delhi, is the birthplace of Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Netaji, as people fondly call the SP supremo and ex-Uttar Pradesh chief minister, organises a 15-day Saifai festival every year which climaxes with performances by Bollywood celebrities.

But more people visit the village for the excellent healthcare and educational facilities on offer here.

The village, with a population of 7,141, qualifies to be what is called a rurban area—rural areas with urban features.

With a 900-bed multi-speciality hospital called the Rural Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, scores of educational institutes, commercial banks and sports stadiums, Saifai has everything to make a city feel envious. The village even has an airstrip, where Bollywood celebrities fly down for the annual Saifai Mahotsava.

That is why, locals say, SP’s loss from Etawah constituency in this year’s general election came as such a shock.

Many people complain Saifai was developed while other parts of the state lagged. Ramesh Babu, 45, a farmer from Orai in Jalaun district, some 150km away from Saifai, is in the village to get medical treatment for his 70-year-old mother, who broke her leg. He said he would have been happier to treat his mother at a nearby place.

Samajwadi Party, established by Mulayam Singh in 1992, represents the socialist tradition in Uttar Pradesh and has been supported by backward castes like Yadavs, middle and lower peasantry and Muslims.

In the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections, the SP tally sank to its lowest ever. It managed to win only five seats, compared with 22 in 2009. Two of the five were won by Netaji himself (Mainpuri and Azamgarh) while the rest—Badaun, Firozabad and Kannauj—went to his daughter-in-law and two other relatives.

Ashok Kumar Doharey of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won Etawah, thumping his SP rival, member of Parliament Premdas Kateriya, by a margin of over 170,000 votes.

The SP’s loss in his hometown constituency must have hurt Netaji the most, said Radheshyam Porwal, a jewellery shop owner in Bharthana, 48km from Saifai.

“There are good roads, Saifai’s hospital is good, we have uninterrupted supply of electricity. If only SP had controlled crime, there was no better government than this. He would have lost everywhere but here in his hometown,” Porwal said.

The SP’s decline is its own doing, said A.K. Verma, professor in the department of political science at Christ Church College in Kanpur, blaming chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh’s son.

“They completely messed it up in UP with a directionless administration involved in rampant corruption,” Verma said. “Akhilesh did not project himself as a strong leader despite being young and educated.”

Lawlessness has grown across regions and communities since 2012, when Akhilesh became chief minister following a landslide victory for the SP in state assembly elections.

“People in the state have started missing the (erstwhile) Mayawati government,” said M.S. Khushwa, a local journalist with a weekly magazine, adding that although Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) regime was characterized by red tape, she kept hooliganism under check.

In Kunwara village in Bharthana district, 53km from Saifai, Omprakash Dikshit, a retired railways employee, said people do not feel safe even to go from one end of the village to the other at night. “Price rise and hooliganism are responsible for the downfall of the Congress and the SP,” he added.

The BJP’s spectacular show in the state is also attributed to its success in consolidating the Hindu votes—cutting across caste—while keeping its campaign focused on development.

Brajesh Sarna, a Dalit who runs a small soap manufacturing factory at Bhatta Basti in Dibiyapur assembly constituency, some 90km from Saifai, said there is no good government hospital or private clinic nearby and the villagers prefer to go to Kanpur, which is 120km away.

Voters here had been supporting Dalit leader Mayawati and BSP, but chose to vote for BJP’s Narendra Modi in the hope of change and development.

Somnath, who belongs to the nomadic Kapadia community, many of whom beg for a living, said he had heard that no one in Gujarat faces hardship. “We thought maybe Modi will do some work for us as well if we vote for him.”

The Kapadias, who have a base at Kakrahi Kothi in Dibiyapur, are one of the most underdeveloped communities in UP. They say they have not seen any change in the quality of their lives.

“When it rains, this whole area turns into a pool. For us, development would mean good roads, better schools, clean drinking water and concrete houses,” Somnath said. They resent that neither the SP nor the BSP government have cared about their fate. They wanted to know where to send their grievances to prime minister Modi.

Many in the state— those who voted for the BJP and those who did not—said voting was highly polarized on religious lines. Om Prakash, a farmer at Saifai village, said the main reason the BJP swept the polls in UP was that the electorate was divided along Hindu-Muslim lines. “People thought Modi is a Hinduwadi leader and will help Hindus. That’s why people voted for him.”

Dharmendra Kumar, a kirana shop owner in the Yadav-dominated Palibamba village, said there is a feeling that Netaji was more inclined toward Muslims. Under a scheme called Kanya Vidya Dhan, through which the state government gives a one-time grant for higher education of girls, the Akhilesh Yadav government doled out `30,000 to Muslim girls and `20,000 to everybody else, which many Hindus found discriminatory. The state government has corrected the anomaly since, and now every eligible girl gets `20,000.

However, most people here give little credit to Amit Shah, Modi’s aide who is credited with having scripted the BJP sweep in UP. “This is all bogus. We don’t even know who Amit Shah is. Everybody is educated and is aware of the situation at the ground,” Kumar said.

Though Muslims, especially in western UP, mostly voted for the candidate best placed to defeat the BJP candidate post the August-September 2013 Hindu-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar district, Muslims did not vote uniformly across the state. Many among the sizeable Muslim population in Etawah are said to have voted for the BJP.

Sami Khan, a retired state government employee in Etawah city, dismissed the notion that people voted according to religion. “If it were so, then it can’t be that a single Muslim candidate did not win from UP. This time the election was only on the issue of development,” he said.

Khan said though the Akhilesh government has done good work, people voted for a change. “When the state elections are held, we will vote for SP, but for Lok Sabha we voted for BJP.”

Khan said Muslims in UP these days are less anxious about the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which around 1,000 people, mostly Muslim, were killed—or even the more recent Muzaffarnagar riots. “The Gujarat riots took place in 2002 and thereafter no such thing happened. Riots happen at many places. No government orchestrates riots, they just happen. One cannot blame any government for that.”

Hazi Abdul Kayum, a retired central government employee, however, was more cautious. Many illiterate Muslims feared that a BJP government may enact laws that may be harmful to them, he said.

Sameer Khan, a tutor, said price rise and corruption were the main issues for which Congress was held responsible. “Modiji has assured during the elections that he will take along the Muslims with him. If he does so, more Muslims will support him. Modi said in Parliament that it is a government for the poor. We are more hopeful by this.”

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon