LUCKNOW – For Samajwadi Party (SP) President Akhilesh Yadav, one journey has ended and another has just begun.
In the recently-held Assembly elections, he may have more than doubled the number of seats his party had won in 2017 and the vote percentage also spiked one and a half times, but the challenges that lie ahead for the 48-year-old leader have also increased manifold.
The biggest challenge for Akhilesh in the coming months would be to keep his party together.
Five years is a long time and not many of the newly elected legislators would be in the mood to struggle against the establishment for this period.
Besides keeping the legislature party intact, Akhilesh will also have to work overtime to prevent an exodus from his party — the kind that he had encouraged from other parties before the elections.
The SP is almost brimming over with turncoats and there is no guarantee that such elements will not turn away again.
These turncoats, interestingly, are a major reason for the SP’s below expectation performance.
Akhilesh chose the ‘outsiders’ over his loyal partymen when it came to ticket distribution and this led to his cadres retiring into their shells.
The defeat of Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini, both of whom came from the BJP, is an example.
Akhilesh will now have to constantly boost the morale of his party workers and reassure them that the party has a future in state politics.
While keeping his OBC vote bank intact, the SP chief also needs to expand his vote base.
In the midst of elections, Akhilesh damaged himself to a large extent when he said in Pratapgarh — “Raja Bhaiyya kaun?”
Raja Bhaiyya, in at least six districts of the Avadh region, is an icon for the Thakur community.
Akhilesh’s uncalled for remark made sure that the Thakurs did not vote for and support the SP, leading to the defeat of the party’s Thakur leaders like Arvind Singh Gope.
Raja Bhaiyya, incidentally had helped Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh cobble together a majority for his government in 2003 and has served as a minister in the Mulayam and Akhilesh governments.
Akhilesh also targeted Dhananjay Singh, another well-known Thakur leader, who was contesting from Malhani in Jaunpur.
Though Dhananjay also lost the polls, it added to the Thakur angst against the SP.
If the SP wants to broad base itself, it cannot afford to remain restricted to select OBC groups and completely ignore the upper castes.
Akhilesh, as a political leader, is known for his short temper and lack of restraint that was rather visible during the election campaign.
His “Ae police” remark in Kannauj during the campaign went viral on the social media and attracted a great deal of flak. He is also known to snap at leaders in public which apparently does not go down well.
Another factor that could prove to be his undoing is his inaccessibility to party workers, leaders and journalists.
“He will meet you only if he wants to. If you have some information that you want to pass on to him, he will never be available. In this sense, his behaviour is becoming autocratic like Mayawati,” said a senior party MLA.
There is no channel which can help him take feedback on a regular basis about what is happening at the ground level in the party and elsewhere.
Party leaders recall that Mulayam Singh Yadav, in total contrast, would readily meet party workers even late in the night if there was an urgent issue.
“His staff was instructed never to turn us back and Netaji (Mulayam) would meet us whenever we wanted,” said a former MLA from Ballia.
Another major challenge before Akhilesh is that he has failed to develop fresh leadership within his party even though it is five years since he took over the reins.
As a result, he was leading a one-man army with no other campaigners whereas the BJP had an army of campaigners — right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to Union ministers, MPs, and state ministers.
Moreover, the SP president needs to get himself some reliable advisors and replace his present coterie that comprises of inexperienced ‘leaders’.
Akhilesh is seemingly unwilling to allow older leaders to share centre stage. Though he patched up with his estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav on the eve of the elections, he ensured that Shivpal did not get the attention he deserves.
Other senior leaders like Ambica Chaudhary were also conspicuous by their absence during the campaign. -IANS