The Samajwadi Party has declared that its chief and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav will be contesting the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh from the Karhal seat in Mainpuri district.
This comes barely a day after speculations that Akhilesh would contest from the Gopalpur seat in Azamgarh district.
This article will try to address four questions:
Why did Akhilesh Yadav choose Karhal?
And why not a seat in Azamgarh district, as was speculated?
What could be its impact on the elections?
Has Akhilesh played it safe?
WHY DID AKHILESH YADAV CHOOSE KARHAL?
Karhal is an SP bastion – the party has won the seat six out of seven times since its formation. But even before that, the seat has been dominated by SP's precursors, like the Janata Party, Lok Dal, and Bharatiya Kranti Dal.
The socialist base in the state goes back even further – in the first Assembly election of Uttar Pradesh in 1951, the Karhal West seat was won by the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, and in 1957, by the Praja Socialist Party.
But Karhal is not a seat that has been represented by the Yadav family.
The family's home turf is the Jaswantnagar seat in Etawah district, presently represented by Akhilesh's uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav. Shivpal has held Jaswantnagar since 1996, representing the seat five times.
Mulayam Singh Yadav had represented Jaswantnagar from 1967 to 1993, losing just once, during the Congress wave of 1980. He had also represented Gunnaur and Bharthana in the past.
This time, the Jaswantnagar seat has been allotted to Shivpal's Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia), and it is likely that he or his son would contest from the seat.
In some way, Akhilesh choosing Karhal is symbolic of his political messaging – it reflects his efforts to project himself as a socialist leader (his Twitter bio says, 'socialist leader of India'), and not one who is just a product of the Yadav family legacy.
That's why it's important he chose a seat with an old socialist connection, but not a seat that has earlier been held by his father or uncle.
WHY NOT A SEAT IN AZAMGARH DISTRICT?
It is not clear how seriously Akhilesh was considering Gopalpur in Azamgarh district. It is possible that since he is the MP of Azamgarh, a seat in the district was naturally considered.
It is also likely that the rumour was floated to gauge the response. One can't speculate beyond a point why the seat wasn't chosen.
However, one thing is certain. Had Akhilesh chosen any seat in Azamgarh, it would have been seen as an attempt to consolidate the party's traditional MY or Muslim-Yadav combination. In Gopalpur, for instance, both Muslims and Yadavs together make up nearly 40 percent of the population.
When there was speculation around Akhilesh contesting from Gopalpur, BJP supporters on social media had already begun slamming him for choosing a "Muslim concentration seat" and comparing him to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala.
In contrast to Gopalpur, the Muslim population in Karhal is just about 6 percent. Therefore, the combination that Akhilesh would be looking at is a lion's share of the Yadav vote and some support from the other most numerous community in the seat – the Shakyas.
This is in line with Akhilesh's efforts to expand beyond Yadavs, into other OBC castes as well.
The entry of Swami Prasad Maurya, who hails from the same Shakya/Maurya community, is a part of this process.
WHAT COULD BE ITS IMPACT?
Last time, the SP had underperformed in the Yadav-dominated belt in the Lower Doab region of Uttar Pradesh.
Among districts like Mainpuri, Etah, Firozabad, Etawah, Farrukhabad, Kannauj, and Auraiya that fall under this belt, the SP won only 6 seats, compared to the BJP, which won 20.
Even among these six seats, three fall under Mainpuri, the only district in this belt where the SP got more seats than the BJP.
If Akhilesh has to come anywhere close to defeating the BJP, he needs to completely reverse the numbers in this region.
The SP's calculation is probably that Akhilesh contesting from Karhal would have a spillover effect in the neighbouring seats and districts.
HAS AKHILESH PLAYED IT SAFE?
Yes. Karhal is a safe seat, and by choosing it, he has mirrored what the BJP has done by fielding Yogi Adityanath from his home seat of Gorakhpur Urban.
While Akhilesh did accept the BJP's challenge to enter the electoral battlefield, he didn't join the battle in the politically crucial region of East UP or in a seat that may have involved a risky tussle.
Mamata Banerjee's experiment of contesting from Singur is interesting in this respect. While she did lose eventually to Suvendu Adhikary by a small margin, her decision to contest did boost the TMC's prospects in the Jangalmahal region and saved it from a washout like in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.