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SP-RLD alliance hits turbulence: As rift with Akhilesh Yadav widens, Jayant Chaudhary ‘explores options’

The cracks between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and its ally Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) seem to be widening, with RLD leaders confirming that the party is exploring options for allies for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and accusing SP president Akhilesh Yadav of bullying them. Both parties, however, officially maintained that there was no rift.

The differences between the two parties became evident during the urban local body elections in UP as they differed over seat sharing. The RLD at the time insisted that the alliance was still going strong, but in several seats the allies contested against each other. Two senior RLD leaders on Sunday told The Indian Express that the party was looking beyond the SP because “the bigger party has not respected its junior ally so far”. Both leaders hinted that the Jayant Chaudhary-led party was inching towards the Congress.

A senior RLD leader said on the condition of anonymity, “Our national president has been taking to the top Congress leadership. We are exploring our options and if things go well, you might see the Azad Samaj Party, the Congress, and the RLD contest the 2024 elections together.”

The party functionary added, “Talks between Jayant ji and the Congress leadership have happened. On some occasions, even Rajasthan Congress leader Sachin Pilot and Chandrashekhar (Azad Samaj Party leader) have been present.”

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The RLD and the Congress already have a seat-sharing arrangement in Rajasthan, where the party has one MLA — Subhash Garg from Bharatpur.

On Saturday, Jayant attended the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah while SP president Akhilesh Yadav stayed away from the event citing “prior commitments”. RLD national general secretary Kuldeep Ujjwal, however, said not too much should be read into Chaudhary’s decision to attend the ceremony. “They called our leader (Jayant) with a lot of respect and love. And hence, he went. He was shown great respect there and Rahul Gandhi took his name from the stage before the new CM’s. It means a lot.”

He added, “But this doesn’t mean our alliance with SP is in danger or if there is any distance between the two parties. Not at all.”

The RLD has been the SP’s most trusted ally since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the two parties came together as part of a “mahagathbandhan (grand alliance)” along with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The two parties contested the UP Assembly elections too as allies, with Akhilesh forming an “umbrella alliance” with smaller parties in the state such as Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and Mahan Dal. Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, the BSP broke away from the alliance and, similarly, the SBSP and the Mahan Dal too left. But the RLD stood firm with Akhilesh.

Jayant Chaudhary also brought Chandrashekhar Azad on board after multiple meetings with Akhilesh and the Dalit leader agreed to join the RLD-SP alliance in November. Since then, Azad has been seen with the SP president on several occasions.

Meerut the flashpoint

The first signs of a rift started to show during the ticket distribution for the civic polls. The biggest flashpoint was the Meerut Mayor seat that the RLD was eyeing. Instead, Akhilesh didn’t consult the RLD and named Seema Pradhan the party’s candidate. Seema is the wife of SP MLA Atul Pradhan, who represents Sardhana in Meerut district.

There were also problems related to candidates for Meerut’s Mavana Nagar Palika Parishad seat and Baghpat’s Khekhda Nagar Palika, among others.

A senior RLD leader alleged the SP had not given his party its due. “We are a party with a strong base among Jaats and with Chandrashekhar being with us, we are working on reaching out to Dalits too. Muslims also support us. But the SP national president has been bullying us. He didn’t give us a single mayoral seat in west UP and the result is in front of you. We wanted to contest the Meerut Mayor’s seat, but the SP announced their candidate and the result is in front of you. They have been embarrassed in Meerut. We would have fielded a Muslim candidate from RLD and won the seat,” said the leader.

He was referring to the SP’s embarrassing defeat in the Meerut mayoral election in which Pradhan finished third behind All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) candidate Anas. She finished 13,000 votes behind the AIMIM candidate. Meerut has a sizable Muslim population of around four lakh, followed by Jaats who number around 1.5 lakh and Gujjars, a community Pradhan belongs to.

Another incident that illustrated all was not well between Jayant and Akhilesh was on May 2 when the RLD leader did not attend the SP chief’s civic election campaign event in west UP’s Saharanpur district. The RLD at the time played down Jayant’s absence saying other party leaders were present with Akhilesh.

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Jayant also didn’t attend the press conference addressed by Akhilesh on May 2. RLD leaders, however, were present with the SP chief who held a roadshow for the party’s mayoral candidate in Saharanpur Noor Hasan Malik.

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“We have compromised a lot with the SP but our workers are angry now and want us to see beyond the SP, which has even lost the support of its core vote bank of Muslims and Yadavs. Muslims are unhappy with the SP because Akhilesh ji is scared. You can’t do politics with fear. He is always scared of upper-caste Hindus. They will not vote for the SP or the RLD. They vote for the BJP and will continue to do so. Akhilesh ji couldn’t even stand with his seniormost leader Azam Khan. The Muslims are watching it all,” said another RLD leader.

The party functionary said, “Akhilesh Yadav has himself weakened the alliance with us. We have always been accommodating, but there is a limit. We are all answerable to the party workers and then eventually, the people. We were hopeful that we will get to contest 10-15 Lok Sabha seats. But the way things are Akhilesh Yadav will try to give us two-three seats, and that is not fair.”

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Asked by The Indian Express if there were any differences between the allies, SP chief national spokesperson Rajendra Choudhary said, “Not at all. There is no issue. The alliance is solid. We are happy that Jayant ji went to Karnataka. It was a good move. Akhilesh ji would have also gone, but couldn’t because of prior commitments.”

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