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Two decades after poll debut from Kannauj, Akhilesh plans his return to SP’s erstwhile bastion

Two decades after he made his electoral debut from the Kannauj Lok Sabha constituency, Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav is planning to contest from the parliamentary seat in next year’s general elections.

Akhilesh won from Azamgarh in the last Lok Sabha election in 2019 but is not planning to return there after his cousin Dharmendra Yadav lost the bypoll last year. The bypoll was necessitated by Akhilesh’s decision to vacate the seat to continue as an MLA from Karhal in Mainpuri.

“Akhilesh Yadav ji has already told us that he will contest the 2024 Lok Sabha election from Kannauj. We have started the preparations for it. From June 1, the party will start reconstituting the booth committees. The district committee will also be constituted,” SP’s Kannauj district unit president Kaleem Khan told The Indian Express. “Akhilesh ji has already confirmed his plan to contest from Kannauj before the media during his recent visit.”

For Akhilesh, Kannauj is as safe as a seat can get. The Yadav family represented it in Parliament from 1999 to 2018 before the 49-year-old SP president’s wife Dimple lost the seat to BJP in 2019.

SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav won from Kannauj in 1999. After he vacated the seat to retain Sambhal, Akhilesh made his electoral debut from Kannauj in 2000, defeating Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) heavyweight Akbar Ahmad Dumpy by more than 58,000 votes. Akhilesh won from Kannauj again in the next two consecutive Lok Sabha elections – 2004 and 2009. In 2014, the party fielded Dimple and she retained the seat. But she failed to repeat her performance five years later, losing to the BJP’s Subrat Pathak by 12,353 votes. Last year, Dimple was elected MP from Mainpuri, where a bypoll was held after Mulayam’s demise.

“Kannauj and Farrukhabad have been the land of samajwadis (socialists). Dr Ram Manohar Lohia contested the Lok Sabha elections from Kannauj and Farrukhabad. Akhilesh ji is working on the lines of Lohia ji,” said SP national secretary and spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary. He, however, added that Akhilesh would contest from Kannauj “if the party decides”.

Muslims, Dalits, and Yadavs dominate the constituency. While Muslims constitute three lakh voters, Dalit voters number around 2.8 lakh, and Yadavs 2.5 lakh. The BJP’s win last time was the result of a chunk of Yadav and Dalit voters shifting their allegiance to the BJP.

Though the SP president has made frequent visits to Kannauj in recent months — he is scheduled to visit the district again on Monday — and has been raising local issues, the task to win back the seat will not be easy.

In the recently concluded urban local body polls, the SP managed to win only one (Talgram) out of the district’s five Nagar Panchayats. The BJP and Congress won one each while Independents won two. The SP was defeated in elections to all three Nagar Palika Parishad chairperson posts, with the BJP winning two and the BSP one.

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But local SP leaders believe that Akhilesh’s return to Kannauj would give the party a boost in nearby constituencies too. “When Akhilesh ji decided to contest the Assembly elections from Karhal, it created a positive atmosphere in favour of the SP and acted as a morale booster for party workers. If he contests from the prestigious seat of Kannauj, the SP will get a similar benefit in 2024,” said a local party leader.

With Akhilesh planning to contest the parliamentary elections again, questions will be raised about where he wants to focus on his job as a Leader of the Opposition in the UP Assembly or move to national politics.

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Last November, when asked if he would contest from Kannauj in 2024, Akhilesh said: “Kya karenge khaali baith kar ghar pe? Humara kaam hi chunav ladna hai. Chunav ladenge yahaan pe. Jahaan pehla chunav lade they, wahaan phir se ladenge (What will I do sitting idle at home? It is my job to contest elections. I will contest from here. Where I had fought my first election, I will contest from there again).”

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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