Samajwadi Party to wrest back lost ground in Uttar Pradesh

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Samajwadi Party, which was reduced to 47 seats in UP elections won by BJP, is now holding membership drives across Uttar Pradesh to expand its base

New Delhi: More than two months after the Samajwadi Party’s crushing defeat in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has begun to rebuild the SP by trying to expand its outreach.

The party, which was reduced to 47 seats in the 403-seat assembly in a surge by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is now holding membership drives across the state to expand its base. The focus is on reaching out to the youth and bringing back the non-Yadav Other Backward Class (OBC) voters who drifted to the BJP over the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 11 February-8 March 2017 assembly election.

Through the two-month-long membership drive that started on 15 April, party workers are encouraging people to join the SP either by giving a missed call on a registered number or by visiting one of the booths that have been set up across the state. The party is now considering extending the drive by a month.

“We have received a positive response so far,” said a party leader, adding that over a million people have connected with the SP by giving a missed call and over three million enrolled at the booths.

“Though people of a mixed age group have been coming to us, the proportion of youth voters wanting to join SP is the highest among the lot. Due to the heat many people have not been able to come out so we are considering extending the drive by a month,” said the leader who did not wish to be named.

Party leaders say that these efforts are being made to reach out not only to voters who have drifted to the BJP but also new ones, and to act as a platform for the former CM to reconnect with the people of UP.

“People of the non-Yadav OBC community who had moved to the BJP need to be brought back to the party, while we are also focusing on the Scheduled Caste community. When Akhilesh Yadav was the chief minister he was busy with official work and hence he had very limited time to meet people. Now he is trying to bridge that gap and interact with as many people as he can across the state,” said the leader cited above.

The SP’s chief’s efforts to strengthen the party also come in the backdrop of a deepening rift in the party. Shivpal Yadav, a former state minister and Yadav’s uncle, announced earlier this month that he would float a new political outfit called the Samajwadi Secular Morcha which would be headed by party patriarch and the ex-CM’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Yadav has also stepped up his public presence lately. While he recently held a meeting with the traders and business community of the state, the SP chief also visited the family of Captain Ayush Yadav, who was killed in a gunbattle with militants in Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir on 28 April.

Analysts say that Akhilesh Yadav has a popular public image despite the party’s loss in the state election and such measures will help expand the reach of the SP.

“With the loss in the recent election and the threat of a split in SP looming large, Akhilesh Yadav needs to keep the party together. Such activities will not only motivate existing members but the added numbers will also strengthen the party. Akhilesh’s media presence was always strong but now he has to take that to the ground level,” said Lucknow-based political analyst Ramesh Dixit.

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