The Samajwadi Party (SP), the main Opposition party in Uttar Pradesh, has conducted a survey, according to which the majority of Muslim voters in the state are drifting away from the party and going to the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, say party insiders. Muslims constitute around 19% voters in the state and have a dominating presence in around 30 Lok Sabha seats out of UP’s 80.
A party insider said, “Our party’s recent survey has shown that more than 60% Muslims may turn their back on the SP and vote for the Congress, which, if it happens, will decimate the SP over a period of time as Muslims and Yadavs comprise the party’s core vote base.”
However, when asked about it, SP spokesperson Kirti Nidhi Pandey put up a brave face and told The Sunday Guardian, “One thing is clear in Uttar Pradesh—if there is a party that can defeat the BJP in the state, it is the SP. We don’t think the minority vote is drifting away from us, because Muslims also know that we are the only party that can defeat the BJP, Congress doesn’t have that credibility.”
Yet, leaders within the Samajwadi Party admit that resentment is growing among Muslims over Akhilesh Yadav’s public assertion of “PDA”, which means “pichre” (backward), Dalit and “alpasankhak” (minority), where the importance of the Muslim bloc recedes into the background. In addition to that, party insiders indicate that the recent course of events where Akhilesh was seen as less responsive about Muslims hasn’t left a good impression on the Muslim electorate in the state.
A senior SP leader privy to the developments said, “That Muslims are drifting away from SP doesn’t need any research. It is obvious. One can see it, hear it and feel it. The management of Muslims by the top leadership (Akhilesh Yadav) has been poor. He is no more a leader with whom Muslims can connect like they used to with Mulayam Singh Yadav. One notable reason is that our party chief has stopped connecting with the grassroots. Voters have become more mature and have realised that he steps out just months before elections. He is nowhere to be seen on the other days.”
Another party leader said, “More than 80% Muslims voted for the SP in the last Assembly elections and yet there was no conclusive result (as SP was unable to form government in the state). So, they will eventually start thinking that we have voted inconsequentially to SP so why not vote for a party that is more accommodative of us like Congress. If they vote for Congress this time, Congress will try to make ground for itself. It will start preparing to revive itself and this will directly hurt SP in the Assembly elections in 2027.”
Political analysts think that the voting behaviour of Muslims has changed drastically from 2014 after the BJP came to power at the Centre. Earlier, Muslim votes used to get fragmented and be cast to different candidates. However, now their votes are considered “tactical votes” which implies that if Muslims see a BJP candidate, they would assess and compare the probabilities of winning candidates against the BJP and start voting for the one they think is capable of defeating the saffron party candidate. A political analyst said, “They vote to defeat the BJP candidates. And such a trend has become more clear after Karnataka elections where a chunk of Muslims who were traditional voters of Janata Dal Secular left them and voted for the Congress. UP could see a similar trend.”
With SP’s prospects fading, a section of Congress leadership is also seen to have drawn a strategy where they could form an alliance without the SP, as the main opposition party in UP has been obstinately holding on to 60 Lok Sabha seats. It wants to give only 20 seats to the other parties, which has become a point of disagreement within the I.N.D.I.A bloc. A senior SP leader said, “If you obstinately hold on to 60 seats out of 80, how is this being accommodative? How does it send a message that SP wants to have an alliance? It doesn’t send any such message.”