The Taj Ganges hotel lobby in Varanasi looks like the security check at an airport. The hotel staff tries in vain to calm the crowd that has come to meet and greet Akhilesh Bhaiya. The Samajwadi Party leader is here for the last leg of election campaigning. “His supporters can smell that he is close to victory,” quips one.
In the quiet environs of the hotel’s conference room, Akhilesh Yadav strides in, weary after a long and hard election campaign over seven phases, but brimming with confidence. “My programmes have been going on well but finally the voters have to come to the booth. I know I have the votes but they have to be cast. We have to get the strategy right at the booth level, we can’t let our voters sit at home thinking SP is winning anyway,” he says.
Akhilesh Yadav says the Dalits and the backward castes had become angry with the party in the last few years but now they are back with them. He says all the opposition parties are plotting to keep the SP from coming to power. “There are three groups—the BSP, the Congress and Owaisi—whose only aim to keep SP out. You analyse their candidate selection in many constituencies and it will be clear they are there to cut our votes. The BJP is trying to communalise the elections but this time the people have not fallen for it,” says Yadav.
The main reason for that, he says, is unemployment. According to him, sugarcane was a big issue in Western UP, the farmers there are very agitated. Covid and lockdown have hurt the people too much and they are not satisfied with doles like free ration.
There have been allegations of goondaraj in the state when SP was in power the last time. Yadav says that will be corrected. “They say that Samajwadi Party is a mafia party, that there was no law and order when we were in power. But it was us who started the police response system. But yes, if we come to power, there will be more attention on policing. In any case, all those so-called mafia groups have disintegrated,”
He admits stray cattle is a big issue in the state. “We have to address it if we come to power. It’s a complex issue, we have to find a solution, I don’t have an answer now but it will be a priority area for us to find a way,” says Yadav. How many seats are they expecting to win? “Look, we don’t do those calculations and predictions. I am focusing on getting our voters to the polling booth to come and vote. If we succeed in that we will do well,” he says.