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Passing The Baton: SP And BSP Still Looking For Second Lines Of Leadership

The current leadership of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party appear to struggle with preparing the pitch to ultimately pass on the baton as no clear and strong second-lines of leaders appear to have been cultivated in the way these parties’ founders managed to did.

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Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party in Lucknow (in 2016)
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In political parties of the Hindi heartland, there is a thin line between the second line of leadership and dynasty politics. The next line of leadership rests with the progeny of the leader. Dynastic politics is now an accepted fact and is hardly discussed.

Every political leader brings their own aura and charisma. The piquant situation arises only at the stage of passing the baton. Normally, the leader establishes the second line of leadership during his days of active politics. In Uttar Pradesh, the obvious choice of the heir apparent is from the leader’s family.

For the political parties who depend on some face, the transition comes with lots of baggage. The change of guard results in ripples, which may be silent but can be felt. The old guard which is associated with the senior leader often scatter into three groups—those who accept and follow the line, some who deflect and part ways while a few remain loyal but keep cribbing. The onus now rests on the new leader to establish themselves, prove their mettle and do the two most important things—keep the old guard in good humour and cultivate their own second line of leadership.

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Uttar Pradesh during the past 40 years has seen the emergence of two political parties, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) and Kansiram’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Both the parties irrespective of losing the past few elections have their own electoral bases and have even ruled the state in the past. SP is still the main Opposition party in UP.

Samajwadi Party

Founded in 1992 by Mulayam Singh Yadav, the party is currently headed by his son and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. After a series of losses, a lot has been written raising fingers over his leadership. Many old timers including his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav have left the party. The wrath was inevitable as SP lost four elections in a row.

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Though Akhilesh became MP from Kannauj in 2000, he moved to centre stage in UP politics after being appointed as state president in 2009, a post which he took from his uncle Shivpal Yadav. In 2012, SP came to power with an absolute majority, a first for the party in its decades-old journey. The fortunes overturned after that—SP lost the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2017 Assembly polls and was ousted from power. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it failed to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and in 2022 again failed to bounce back. All these elections were held when Akhilesh was either CM or was in charge of the party in 2017.

All praises were showered on Mulayam and Akhilesh was held responsible for the debacles. The foremost question—has he failed to nurture the party like his father? The point also gave an opportunity to old guards to raise the issue of the coterie of Akhilesh running the show. There is no second line of leadership.

Politics of every era has its own permutation and combinations. The present situation is such that Akhilesh could do little. In the past, he went into alliance with BSP making the social umbrella wider. Later he stitched up alliances with smaller parties. He adjusted sulking Shivpal Singh Yadav, included several important faces from other parties in SP, and single-handedly he campaigned but the outcome does not merely depend on the equations and he did not get desired results. But it is a fact that it was the maximum that could have been done at his stage.

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The question is true. SP presently does not boast of any substantial second line of leadership. Mulayam had Beni Prasad Verma, Mohan Singh, Azam Khan, and Ramashanker Kaushik on his side and some other faces like Amar Singh and Janeshwar Mishra were also there who too were fruitful for the party. Even Phoolan Devi, a two-time MP from SP, held sway over her community voters and had become a face. Mulayam also cultivated a series of leaders who became satraps of their districts and adjoining areas, thus becoming known faces in the party.

The present SP led by Akhilesh is devoid of any such leader who can assume the role of second line of leadership. Though there are some close confidantes and they have held other posts but hardly any of them command sway over masses. They just bask in the limelight of leadership though their loyalty towards Akhilesh remains undisputed. Though they have been given considerable time to emerge as independent leaders, still they remain in grooming mode.

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The biggest problem with SP now is that all confidantes of Akhilesh are yet to become political faces. Since 2017, when AKhilesh took over the reins the party, the party has been in turmoil firstly with the exit of Shivpal Singh Yadav and later with a series of debacles in elections.

Mulayam also cultivated a series of leaders who became satraps of their districts and adjoining areas thus becoming a face in the party. The strategy still holds good and there are some faces who are influential in their pockets. But the catch point in this strategy still remains unanswered. Mulayam never gave a free run to any stalwart. For example in Barabanki district, Beni Prasad Verma emerged as undisputed leader but Mulayam also patted Chote Lal Yadav who later became MLA putting him as a speed breaker for Verma. Presently, one close to Akhilesh enjoys full freedom in his district, which is detrimental for the party. It has resulted in sulking workers and other leaders.  Also if the stalwart leaves the party, like Verma left SP, the party still held its ground in Barabanki as there was a second line of leadership who managed the show.

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The age factor is also a major thing in developing a second line of leadership. Akhilesh, who is now 49, will have a second line of leadership in the age group of 35-40 years, an age which still requires maturity. Mulayam had the privilege that his associates were with him for the past two decades when he founded SP in 1992. The young generation of AKhilesh may come with energy but resentment also creeps amongst the old guard.

Still, SP being the main Opposition party has some senior leaders who can be developed as good and sincere second line of leadership. The new entrants to party from BSP and other parties such as Ram Achal Rajbhar, Indrajeet Saroj, Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, Dharam Singh Saini, KK Gautam, Mitahilal Bharti—all are political faces in their own category. They hold clout and have influence in their region. Shedding the tag of new entrants, SP has given them important responsibilities as Maurya has been nominated as MLC despite losing the assembly poll, Bharti was heading frontal outfit Baba Sahib Vahini, and Saroj is national general secretary. In coming days, these leaders with perseverance may develop as larger political faces benefitting the party. Among the SP leaders, Arvind Singh Gope and Sunil Singh Yadav ‘Sajan’ have brighter prospects.

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A lot depends on the churning after the membership drive of the party concludes. Party insiders believe that there will be a sea change in the party with many new faces getting important posts in the party. As of now, Akhilesh has dissolved all units on July 22. The message being given is that perform or perish.

The political landscape has changed in the past decade. Earlier, the stalwarts used to corner the voters of their community. However, now small outfits drawing support from a particular caste have sprung up and consolidated their positions in UP. To name a few, Apna Dal (S), Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, Mahan Dal, and Nishad Party make it difficult for leaders of the same caste to gain a foothold. These smaller outfits share power and thus develop a strong base among their voters.

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For the SP, the time is now ripe to leave behind the family feud and stick to old basics of cultivating political faces on its own. The process may take time but eventually, it prevails.

Bahujan Samaj Party:

Founded in 1984, the party has tasted power four times in the state. Kansiram, the founder of BSP, passed the baton to Mayawati and she assumed power for the first time in 1995. Since then, it has been running under her leadership. Lately, the party has grabbed attention with dismal performances in elections.

There is not much about the second line of leadership in BSP. The old stalwarts have either been left behind or have been expelled from the party and have joined other political parties. Though they had gained prominence during their stay in BSP, it was difficult for them to carve a niche. The reason is that BSP functions on its cadres, which are deep-rooted. Hence, exodus at the state level hardly affects the party. Though the election results have been very poor with BSP —winning just one seat in the 2022 polls, the party still commands a good hold over its voters.

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Lately, the party is witnessing a transformation. Mayawati’s nephew Akash Anand is the national coordinator of the party. Anand is quite active on social media and BSP too is witnessing changes with updates on social media.

The onus now rests on Akash Anand as the second line of leadership which originated with Kanshi Ram and developed and flourished during Mayawati regime has virtually ceased to exist. In coming days, it depends on Akash to nurture another set of leaders for BSP who hold clout and prove lucky for the party.

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