Big response but bigger challenges before Akhilesh in 2022

Swelling crowds, enthused cadres, increasing ground support and a cleverly stitched up alliance may seem a perfect recipe for elections for the Samajwadi Party, but this picture perfect cannot hide the challenges that Akhilesh Yadav faces in the 2022 polls.

For the first time in his two-decade long political career, Akhilesh is leading a campaign single-handedly with almost no back-up mechanism in the party.

Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav is conspicuous by his absence from the campaign and his health issues may not permit him to address more than one or two meetings.

In 2012, when Akhilesh led his party to a comfortable majority, he was firmly backed by his father, while he travelled across the state.

Mulayam would carefully chart his programme, identify leaders who would accompany him and also decide on issues that had to be addressed in different regions.

This time, Akhilesh is the sole campaigner and star attraction of his party and this naturally adds to the challenge and the burden.

Since he took over as the party president in 2017, Akhilesh has not allowed second rung leadership in the party to develop and, today, he runs a one-man army with not even his cousins taking part in the political exercise.

The Samajwadi Party also lacks mature leaders who can deal with situations in the absence of Akhilesh.

Party veterans have either passed away — like Beni Prasad Varma, Bhagwati Singh — or are completely side-lined.

The BJP, on the other hand, has a galaxy of campaigners that simultaneously hold fort. On any given day — as elections draw close — there are, at least, six BJP leaders addressing meetings in the state.

Another challenge that Akhilesh faces is to rein in overzealous party workers. Buoyed up by the people’s response in Akhilesh’s rallies, the untamed cadres often go overboard leading to major embarrassments for the party.

For instance, a group of party workers in Kanpur were arrested on Wednesday for attempting to create ruckus during the Prime Minister’s visit on Tuesday. As the BJP underlined the incident as an example of ‘SP’s goondaism’, Akhilesh was compelled to expel the five party workers.

Akhilesh also faces the challenge of striking a perfect balance between his Muslim and Hindu supporters.

The BJP has forced him to abandon the policy of Muslim appeasement — or at least, not be vocal about it — and peddle soft Hindutva.

As Akhilesh cautiously moves ahead, trying to balance the two ideologies, his Muslim leaders tend to act as irritants.

For instance, the recent statements made by SP MPs Shafiqur — Rehman Barq and S.T. Hasan, embarrassed the SP to such an extent that Akhilesh was forced to disassociate himself from his own MPs.

Meanwhile, as the time for ticket distribution draws near, Akhilesh will also face a situation when he will have to handle discontent within his own party.

Seats that are given away to multiple allies, will leave the SP workers on these seats simmering with anger. The party could face internal sabotage and it will be testing time for Akhilesh to deal with the situation because the SP leaders have been working for five years in their respective constituencies to contest elections.

Akhilesh has never dabbled in coalition politics and his new allies like Om Prakash Rajbhar, are known to drive a hard bargain in politics. How he keeps all his allies in good humour, remains to be seen.

Another problem that Akhilesh has is his inaccessibility. He mostly remains unavailable to party workers and also the media and no one in the party is authorised to take a call on his behalf.

Unlike Akhilesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav — despite his advancing years, still picks up the phone on random basis and talks to senior journalists and party workers, especially old timers.

It is this that keeps still Mulayam clued into ground realities and also tuned in to emerging situations.

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