News Analysis | Samajwadi Party trying hard to shed its dominant Yadav image

Ahead of the U.P. Assembly election, its leadership is now on an overdrive to reach out to the non-Yadav OBC bloc.

Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the Samajwadi Party (SP) is trying to overcome its limitation of being and shown as a Yadav-dominated party. Its leadership is now on an overdrive to reach out to the non-Yadav OBC bloc, and to expand further it has tied up electoral alliances with smaller caste-based parties.

The SP’s State president Naresh Uttam Patel on August 29 started the “Kisan Naujawan Patel Yatra” targeting the numerically strong “Kurmi” voters who for the last three elections — 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls and 2017 Assembly poll — have backed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Banking on the current farmers’ unrest against the Modi government, Mr. Patel, a Kurmi himself, is reaching out to these sections. “The Modi government is vacillating on the caste census. Even the reservation policy is in danger today. The farmers are not getting the promised minimum support price (MSP). And their justified demands are met with lathicharge and oppression. The government is busy branding the agitating farmers as separatists,” he said.

Apart from this, on August 9 the party launched OBC ‘sammelans’. The first phase of these ‘sammelans’ or dialogues are being organised in the central Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand areas and later it will move into the Purvanchal belt.

While keeping its distance from the Congress, the SP has now tied up with smaller caste-based parties such as the Mahan Dal, which is led by Keshav Dev Maurya, and Sanjay Chauhan’s Janwadi Socialist Party.

Mr. Chauhan’s party has a strong hold among the Chauhan community, an extremely backward caste of the OBC category which has a considerable presence across eastern Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Maurya’s Mahan Dal came into being in 2008 after he left the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Maurya community is estimated to be around 6 % of the total voters in the State.

Though both parties are marginal forces — Mahan Dal had 0.1 % vote share in the last State election — the SP is hoping that bringing them on board will broaden its reach.

The non-Yadav OBCs that broke away from the umbrella social justice politics dominated by the Yadavs have become the bedrock of BJP politics in the State. One of the key reasons for the spectacular jump in the BJP’s electoral performance from 47 seats in the 2012 Assembly election in which they managed to get just 15% of the vote share to 312 seats in 2017 election and cornering nearly 40% vote share is consolidation of these non-Yadav OBCs under the “Grand Hindu Identity”.

Last month, addressing the Mahan Dal meeting SP president Akhilesh Yadav accused the BJP of driving a wedge between the backward communities by pitting Yadavs against the rest of the OBCs. His frustration is evident as SP leaders themselves concede that the BJP’s strategy of isolating the Yadavs has worked. “Samajwadi Party stands for all backward classes, not only the Yadavs. The BJP has been successful in their smear campaign against us. But we are confident that in these seven years since 2014, the backward castes have understood the fraud perpetrated by the BJP,” SP’s chief spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said.

The 2020 Bihar Assembly results have also made the SP wary, where the Rashtriya Janata Dal lost out to BJP-JD(U) combine by a whisker because of counter-mobilisation against a possible accession of a ‘Yadav’ party to power.

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