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Lok Sabha 2024: Akhilesh's Rise Accompanied by Further Decline of Mayawati in UP

For Akhilesh, this is sweet revenge because, in the last Lok Sabha polls, his party was allied to Mayawati's party.

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Emerging as the largest party in India’s by far most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and its leader, Akhilesh Yadav, are perhaps the biggest success stories of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The party’s incredible leap, jumping more than five times from its miserable tally of five seats in the Lower House after the last national elections, is a remarkable feat. Its score of 37 seats is the Samajwadi Party’s best-ever performance, beating the 35 seats it won in 2004 under the leadership of wily and veteran peasant leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Indeed, surpassing his father’s record is a huge personal boost to Akhilesh Yadav, who has often been criticised for lacking the former’s political acumen and organisational skills.

There was some indication of the younger Yadav’s rising stardom in the last state assembly polls when he led his party to victory in 111 seats with its best-ever voting percentage of 32.1 percent, becoming the only opposition to the BJP’s larger-than-life monk Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who crushed all other parties into the dust.

In the Lok Sabha polls, the Samajwadi Party, in alliance with a hitherto defunct regional Congress, managed to increase its voting percentage to 33.59 percent and beat the BJP, which was reduced to just 33 seats.

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The Samajwadi Party leader, who has been belittled in the past by politicians and pundits alike for his political naivete, must be given credit for some bold and innovative decisions that appear to have paid him handsome dividends. Despite burning his fingers badly in the past, first allying with the Congress in 2017 for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls and then with the BSP in the last parliamentary elections, Akhilesh decided to go back to an electoral collaboration with Rahul Gandhi and the INDIA bloc.

He did so after initial hesitation but was ultimately persuaded by persistent buzz from the ground that in a national election, both the Muslim minority in the state as well as Dalits who disenchanted with the BSP’s rapidly shrinking profile were ready to consolidate behind a Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance.

PDA — Pichda, Dalit, Alpasankhyak

Yadav’s decision to coin a new electoral plank called PDA (Pichda, Dalit, Alpasankhyak) espousing the cause of backward castes, Dalits, and minorities was a huge hit, particularly in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where non-Yadav backward castes, Dalits, and Muslims together form a significant segment of voters. Confident of the loyalty of Yadav voters and knowing that Muslims would have no other option but to vote for the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, he went out of his way to snatch back the non-Yadav backward castes and Dalits.

Despite its reputation for being a Muslim-Yadav party, the Samajwadi Party chose only four Muslims and five Yadavs as the candidates for Lok Sabha while giving as many as 27 tickets to other backward castes like Nishads and Kurmis, as well as Dalits. Significantly, Dalits were not only given tickets for reserved scheduled caste constituencies but also in the general category, including Faizabad, which houses the Ayodhya Ram Temple, where veteran Samajwadi Party Dalit leader Awdesh Prasad won by a comfortable margin. 

What is creditable about Akhilesh Yadav this time, who has often disappointed in the past after showing political promise, was the manner in which he managed to ward off the huge blow dealt to him just on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls by his close ally in Western Uttar Pradesh, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chowdhury, by defecting to the BJP-led alliance.

This betrayal added to the vast superiority of the BJP in terms of money, muscle, and organisational machinery and was expected to crush the INDIA bloc in Uttar Pradesh even before it got off the ground. However, the Samajwadi Party leader did not panic, and along with the top leadership of the Congress, they stuck to the task of their PDA slogan and, in the end, managed to do reasonably well in Western Uttar Pradesh that went to polls in the first few phases.

Akhilesh vs Behenji

The rise of Akhilesh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party has been accompanied by further decline and perhaps the ultimate political downfall of Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party, who one and a half decades ago promised to change India’s political landscape. Behenji’s party has drawn a blank with her vote percentage dipping to single digits, which is even more dismal than its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, where it also failed to win a single seat, but with a much higher vote share of almost 20 percent.

For Akhilesh, this is sweet revenge because in the last parliamentary polls, his party was allied to Mayawati's party, she won as many as 10 seats to his five, and then a few weeks after the results were announced, she promptly dumped him.

The humiliation of this regional behemoth with national ambitions was complete with the amazing victory of rival Dalit leader and Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad, detested by Behenji by a whopping margin from Nagina constituency, where the BSP was relegated to a poor fourth position. It remains to be seen how Azad manages to capture the political space vacated by Mayawati and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, but clearly, he has a future in the politics of the state, as she is now definitely yesterday’s leader. 

As for Akhilesh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party, the third largest political party in the Indian Parliament after the BJP and the Congress, both the opportunities and challenges are many now that the era of coalition politics is back in the country.

He has to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders, along with other leading lights of the INDIA bloc and potential new entrants to the opposition alliance, to consolidate the gains made in the 2024 polls. His father was brilliant at squeezing most of the advantage from coalition politics at the national level. It is now the turn of the son.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and the author of ‘Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati’. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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