Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Election 2024: Samajwadi Party’s internal chaos might open a window for AIMIM in UP’s Meerut

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a joint rally alongside the NDA’s new partner, Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), in Meerut, the main opposition party in the state is still looking unprepared to take on the electoral challenge. Jayant Chaudhary’s RLD was earlier in alliance with the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP), where both parties contested the 2019 general elections and the 2022 assembly elections together. Jayant’s RLD has a significant hold among the Jat community in western Uttar Pradesh.

In Meerut constituency, the Samajwadi Party had fielded a largely unknown supreme court lawyer, Bhanu Pratap Singh, who had previously contested assembly elections from Bulandshahar constituency as his own party’s candidate, securing a little over 1200 votes. Sources close to SP say that ever since Bhanu’s ticket was announced, the party workers in the region were unhappy with the decision for various reasons. A local party leader from the constituency said, “First of all, the issue is that nobody knows this candidate. We don’t know who suggested him (Akhilesh Yadav) to field him. Secondly, he is an outsider. We have worked in this constituency for the past five years, and when elections are announced, some outsider is being given preference over us.”

However, a day after Modi’s rally in Meerut, the SP replaced its candidate with Sardhana MLA Atul Pradhan. Atul, a Gurjar by caste, is said to be among the closest to the party supremo, Akhilesh Yadav. A senior party leader, on the promise of anonymity, told Maktoob that it was Atul himself behind the ticket replacement.

“There have been daily meetings at the party headquarters on the Meerut ticket issue for the past two weeks. Local party leaders from the constituency were called to Lucknow to discuss the possibility of a new candidate. We were hoping the new ticket would be given to a Muslim,” he said. Another very senior Muslim leader from SP, requesting anonymity, said he is unhappy that his party hasn’t fielded a Muslim candidate.

Meerut constituency has a significant Muslim population, with over 33 percent of the total votes. In the civic body elections last year, Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM emerged as the second largest party after the BJP in Meerut, winning a total of 11 councillor seats and close to over 1 lakh votes for the mayoral post. AIMIM won at the expense of SP, which contested in alliance with RLD, indicating that the Muslim population in the area was dissatisfied with Akhilesh’s party. After the civic body polls, SP conducted its internal reviews, reportedly. It was decided during the internal review to strengthen the outreach among Muslims for the upcoming parliamentary elections, calling AIMIM’s rise a ‘wake-up call’.

In the Meerut mayoral election, AIMIM’s candidate finished second to the BJP against SP’s Seema Pradhan, who secured over 11,000 votes less than AIMIM. Former Zila panchayat president Seema is also the wife of MLA Atul Pradhan, who defeated the BJP’s Sangeet Som in the 2022 assembly elections and is the SP’s latest parliamentary candidate from Meerut. Interestingly, during the 2023 mayoral elections, there was an internal tussle between MLA Atul Pradhan and Meerut City MLA Rafeeq Ansari – both of whom wanted their wives to be declared candidates.

Sources close to the party say that the conflict between Atul Pradhan and Rafeeq Ansari has not completely died down, and now that Atul is the new candidate, it is going to be hard for the SP to woo Muslim voters. Some reports also suggest that senior SP leader and 4-time MLA from Meerut, Shahid Manzoor, is unhappy with the decision as Atul Pradhan was preferred after discussions on his and former MLA Yogesh Verma’s names. This may increase the confidence of AIMIM, which has been eyeing the Meerut parliamentary seat since the success of the civic body polls last year. The BJP, now in alliance with RLD, has fielded the famous erstwhile actor who played Lord Ram in the popular television series Ramayana, Arun Govil. With the former alliance partner, RLD gone to the BJP, AIMIM’s growing dominance in the constituency, and internal chaos due to poor ticket distribution – Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party looks unprepared to challenge the BJP in Meerut.

SP’s media panellist, Nasir Saleem, told Maktoob that such ticket rearrangements are the norm, and this is not the first time such a thing has happened. “The senior leaders might have thought so and so would be a good candidate, but they changed the ticket after feedback from the ground, which is normal.” When asked about dissatisfaction among Muslim voters, he said, “Muslim voters have grown more intelligent. They understand that their party is the only one that is honest about platforming Muslims. Even today, as a whole, the SP has sent most Muslim legislators to the assembly in 2022.” On the question of AIMIM’s growing influences, he added, “While AIMIM has all the rights to contest elections anywhere it wants, it is nowhere an electoral threat to the SP.”

Maktoob reached out to an AIMIM spokesperson for his comment. We will update the story when he responds.

Sharjeel Usmani
Sharjeel Usmani
Sharjeel Usmani is an independent researcher
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