UP Bypolls: Mixed Bag for Akhilesh Yadav; BJP Remains Force to Beat

While the Samajwadi Party retained the Mainpuri Lok Sabha constituency that was held by its founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, Azam Khan's bastion Rampur was breached by the BJP.

Lucknow: The results to the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh presented a mixed bag for the Samajwadi Party (SP), while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains the force to beat and sprung a surprise by storming Rampur Sadar, the stronghold of Azam Khan.

While SP was able to retain the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat, the bastion of the Yadav family, its alliance partner Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) won in Khatauli. Both these results will come as a morale booster for the party, which was soured by defeat in the Rampur Sadar assembly segment, which will damage Azam Khan, the party’s Muslim leader, in the future.

SP president Akhilesh Yadav was already under pressure after losing the Azamgarh and Rampur Lok Sabha constituencies in by-elections held in June of this year. The three bypolls held on December 5 were seen as a litmus test of Akhilesh’s ability to lead the party.

The Mainpuri seat fell vacant after the demise of SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav in October this year. Initially, it appeared that the feud within the Yadav family may make it challenging for the SP to retain the seat. But to capitalise on the sympathy wave, Akhilesh fielded his wife, Dimple Yadav and also made up with his uncle Shivpal Yadav to avoid a split in the Yadav vote. Dimple defeated the BJP’s Raghuraj Singh Shakya by a massive margin of 2,88,461 votes.

Mainpuri: Samajwadi Party candidate Dimple Yadav with her husband and party president Akhilesh Yadav shows the ‘certificate of election’ during a press conference after her victory in Mainpuri by-elections, in Mainpuri, Thursday, December 8, 2022. Photo: Author provided

But political analysts say that winning the Mainpuri seat is no cause for celebration and SP should reflect on why it lost the Muslim-majority Rampur seat. Akhilesh’s strategy to offer the Khatauli assembly seat to its alliance partner, RLD, has also paid dividends.

The Rampur and Khatauli assembly seats fell vacant after their elected representatives, Azam Khan and Vikram Saini, were convictedand subsequently disqualified. In Rampur, Khan’s close aide Asim Raja lost to the BJP’s Akash Saxena by 34136 votes. Saxena is the petitioner in many cases that have been registered against Khan. The RLD’s Madan Bhaiyya bagged the Khatauli seat by defeating the BJP’s Rajkumari by a margin of 22,143 votes.

BJP still the dominant force

Political experts say that the BJP is still the party to beat in Uttar Pradesh. Even though it lost the Khatauli seat in the by-elections, its victory in Rampur more than made up for it. The analysts say that the SP’s loss in Rampur might also hurt its chances in other traditional strongholds like Muradabaad and Azamgarh, which also have sizeable Muslim populations.

Experts say the SP’s victory in Mainpuri as a result of the sympathy wave generated in favour of the Yadav family, after the demise of Mulayam.

The BJP’s spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi also suggested the same, crediting a sympathy wave for the SP’s victory in Mainpuri. “Victory in Rampur signals that people voted for the BJP by breaking caste and religious barriers,” he said.

Atul Chandra, a political commentator, says the picture for the next general election is still blurred. The veteran journalist noted that in the 2018 bypolls, the BJP lost the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat – Yogi Adityanath’s stronghold – but took it back in the 2019 general elections.

“No one can predict the results of the next election on the basis of the results of these by-elections,” Chandra said.

Can Aazad factor change things?

However, Chandra added that the scenario might change if Akhilesh includes Azad Samaj Party into his alliance. Chandra Shekhar Aazad’s party was a part of the SP and RLD’s election campaign during the bypolls, which has started a new debate in the political arena. In the absence of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Aazad was able to woo Dalit voters into the SP’s fold.

Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad campaigned for his party candidate in the upcoming by-polls in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh. Photo: twitter/@BhimArmyChief

SP leaders were of the opinion that the BJP’s arrogance led to its defeat in Mainpuri. Rajpal Kashyap, a former MLC, said the SP alliance’s victory sends a positive signal to voters ahead of the general elections in 2024.

“It seems that all the oppressed communities, including Muslims and Dalits, came under the SP umbrella to challenge the BJP. We lost Rampur because the local administration made it hard for people to vote, and unfortunately, the Election Commission didn’t care about our complaints either,” the former MLC said.

According to senior journalist Sharat Pradhan, Akhilesh still needs to work hard on the ground to defeat the saffron party in future elections. “It is not a time of celebration for the SP but to retrospect why the party lost Rampur,” Sharat added.

Meanwhile, the credit for Khatauli’s success should go to Jayant Chaudhry, RLD’s president, analysts say. Pradhan said that in Khatauli, the social engineering of Chaudhary and Aazad brought together Jats, Gurjars, Muslims, and Dalits.