The Samajwadi Party is unwilling to cede ground to the BJP, especially in Amethi, since the Congress is too weak to counter the BJP’s well-oiled election machinery.
IMAGE: Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav addresses the party’s national executive meeting in Kolkata. Photograph: ANI Photo
Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in 2017, the Samajwadi Party, then in power, hammered out an alliance with the Congress to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had performed formidably in the Lok Sabha polls in the state three years earlier.
Top leaders of the SP and Congress — Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, respectively — held a massive roadshow in Lucknow.
This did not work, and the BJP handed down a humiliating defeat to the combine as well as the other contender, the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Even as the BJP won 325 of the 403 UP assembly seats, the SP and Congress could muster 47 and 7, respectively. The Mayawati-led BSP settled for 19.
Though the alliance spent itself, the two parties continued to resist the temptation of fielding candidates in each other’s strongholds, including the Amethi and Raebareli constituencies, which are the traditional turfs of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
However, new tidings are on the political horizon of UP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The SP is fortifying its booth-level organisations in both Amethi and Raebareli, which former Congress president Sonia Gandhi represents in the Lok Sabha, and from where her father-in-law and mother-in-law also won.
Now SP President Akhilesh Yadav has asked senior leaders to build booth committees in the two constituencies.
Recently he hinted the party was exploring the possibility of fielding a candidate in Amethi after getting the feedback of local leaders, who felt neglected and shortchanged by local Congress workers despite voting for their candidates in several elections.
Although the SP has not revealed its core strategy for the Amethi and Raebareli constituencies since the general elections are still some time away, the party is unwilling to cede ground to the BJP, especially in Amethi, since the Congress is too weak to counter the BJP’s well-oiled election machinery.
What has caught the Congress off guard is the appointment of a senior SP leader to constitute the booth-level committees in Raebareli.
Of late, General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, has been regularly visiting her mother’s constituency to sustain communication channels with the local electorate in the latter’s absence owing to her ill health.
Meanwhile, Akhilesh has nominated senior leader and legislator Indrajeet Saroj to select booth-committee members in Raebareli in addition to the Kaushambi and Pratapgarh constituencies.
Former MLC Anand Bhaduariya and Sunil Kumar ‘Sajan’ have been entrusted with the task in Amethi.
Depending upon the size of a parliamentary seat, a constituency typically comprises between 1,800 and 2,000 booth committees.
The SP leadership has fixed the deadline of June 5 for constituting them in the different constituencies in UP.
SP Spokesperson and former UP cabinet minister Rajendra Chaudhary said the party had a strong organisational architecture in all the 75 districts of the state.
“It is too early to discuss issues such as fielding candidates. Whether the party decides to contest from a seat is a decision to be taken by our president,” Chaudhary told Business Standard.
The Congress is tight-lipped on the issue, with senior party leaders unwilling to comment on it.
It is busy countering the BJP on Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from his Lok Sabha membership.
The party’s UP unit has been holding protests on the matter in consonance with the central leadership.
Senior UP Congress leader and former MLC Deepak Singh said the SP had in the past fought in both Amethi and Raebareli, although it could never muster enough votes to finish with a respectable tally.
“The SP fielded its candidate against Sonia Gandhi from Raebareli in the 2006 by-election. But she recorded her biggest win in that poll, while the SP candidate could garner about 55,000 votes,” Singh said.
Likewise, the SP contested from Amethi but could never perform well owing to the strong support for the Congress among local voters.
“Every political party has the right to contest in any constituency,” Singh said. “On our part, the Congress is ready with its organisation. We will perform well in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls whether we enter into an alliance or fight on our own.”