Lucknow: The Samajwadi Party has decided to field Dimple Yadav, party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s wife, for the December 5 by-election to the Mainpuri parliament segment. Despite it being the party’s own seat – and the fact that it has been the stronghold of the Yadav family for long – retaining the seat this time around seems an uphill task given the politics at play in the state.
The demise of party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, who represented the Lok Sabha constituency, has necessitated the by-poll in this all-important Samajwadi Party’s bastion.
The by-poll in Mainpuri is the first major challenge for Akhilesh Yadav after the death of his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav. The party has been losing several by-polls in the aftermath of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning the assembly elections in February-March this year.
In June 2022, the party lost by-polls held in Rampur and Azamgarh parliamentary constituencies, again considered the strongholds of Akhilesh Yadav.
This time around with the ensuing election in Mainpuri, Akhilesh Yadav is worried that his estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav could damage Samajwadi Party’s poll prospects. His estranged uncle – who is the founder of Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) – has been claiming for long that he is indeed the political heir of Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Therefore, Akhilesh’s first challenge would be to address and mitigate the damage caused by the ongoing family feud, as it could very well affect the election outcome in Mainpuri. It has already become very evident, for close observers of Uttar Pradesh politics, that the decision by Samajwadi Party to field Dimple Yadav has irked Shivpal Yadav.
As someone who understands the Mainpuri Lok Sabha constituency well, Shivpal can split the Yadav vote, which plays a crucial role in deciding the outcome. By doing so, he can benefit the BJP at the cost of the Samajwadi Party. However, Shivpal is still keeping the cards close to his chest, and one really has to wait for the next few days to know his strategy for the upcoming electoral battle.
A perception battle for the BJP
The BJP has also set its eyes on the Mainpuri seat, for the party believes the defeat of the Samajwadi Party in Mainpuri would dent its morale ahead of the 2024 General Elections. This is because Samajwadi Party has been winning the seat continuously since 1996, and the BJP has never won the seat.
Mulayam Singh won the seat five times between 1996 and 2022. Yadav family scions Dharmendra Yadav and Tej Pratap Singh also represented the seat in 2004 and 2014, respectively.
The BJP is going to the poll with the confidence of having trounced the SP earlier in its bastions of Rampur and Azamgarh in the by-elections this year. Azamgarh was represented by Akhilesh Yadav while another top SP leader Azam Khan was the MP of Rampur before BJP wrested it. Political observers in the state have been of the view that SP lost in two of its strongholds because Akhilesh Yadav did not campaign there.
According to the BJP insiders, the party wants to leverage the ongoing family feud of Yadavs to win Mainpuri. In the event of Shivpal himself willing to contest, the party is planning to back him. Otherwise, it has another plan in place to field Aparna Yadav, Mulayam’s younger daughter-in-law.
Speculation is rife in the Lucknow political circles that Aparna could get the BJP ticket. It heightened after she had gone to meet BJP state president Bhupendra Chaudhary on Thursday, November 10. Many in the know of things say the discussion about the Manipuri seat was also on the table.
The BJP is of the view that by wresting Mainpuri from SP, it could send a message to the voters that Akhilesh’s party is weak compared to the BJP. This perception could benefit the saffron party in the 2024 General Elections in the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Fielding Dimple Yadav a political blunder?
As for other contenders, the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are not seen as strong enough to challenge the BJP.
Despite putting up a formidable fight in the assembly elections, the Akhilesh-led Samajwadi Party failed to dislodge the BJP from power. Nevertheless, the SP bagged 111 seats in the House of 403 seats, and the party vote share had also gone up. The BJP’s tally, however, declined from previous 324 to 255 seats.
This time around there is also a fear in the Samajwadi Party leadership that Muslims could also shift their allegiance to other ‘secular’ parties – as they did with the BSP candidate in the Azamgarh by-elections. The minority community has been traditionally voting for the SP since its formation in 1992. But, it has emerged that Akhilesh’s silence on atrocities against them has upset the community.
Political observers believe that Akhilesh has made a political blunder by giving the ticket to his wife, Dimple Yadav.
Chandra Prakash, a senior journalist, says that if the non-Yadav OBCs, like the “Shakyas community” turns to the BJP, it would be difficult for the SP to retain the seat.
Despite the BSP’s support, Prakash pointed out that Mulayam Singh’s winning margin dropped by nearly two lakh votes in 2019. “Some Yadavs, along with non-Yadav OBCs and upper caste Hindus, also voted for the BJP in the last General Election,” Prakash said. “If the same trend continues in by-elections, the SP’s chances of winning will be bleak.”
Another political analyst believes the BJP would not field an inexperienced Aparna Yadav Yadav against the former MP Dimple Yadav.
According to Atul Chandara, former editor of Times of India, Mainpuri voters’ sympathies are with Akhilesh due to Mulayam Singh’s death. So Shivpal is unlikely to damage the SP’s prospects, he adds.
Chandra also believes the BJP will not field an inexperienced SP defector, Aparna Yadav Yadav, against Dimple. Dimple has political experience, and she was more close to her father-in-law in his last days, he added.