Contrary to the “clean image” of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Samajwadi Party seems to be banking on muscle power in the run-up to the 2017 Assembly elections. The party, according to sources, plans to field bahubalis (musclemen) in various areas to bring back its voters who are looking elsewhere. The SP, according to a party insider, not only intends to give tickets to musclemen such as Mukhtar Ansari, Afzal Ansari, Raja Bhaiyya, Ateek Ahmed and D.P. Yadav, but it also seeks to cash in on the clout that many of them have in various districts of the state.

Last month, Akhilesh Yadav had a feud with his uncle, senior SP leader Shivpal Yadav, because of the latter’s efforts to adjust musclemen into the party. The feud ended with Shivpal holding the reins of the party in UP. Sources in the SP say that Shivpal Yadav wants to take the party to a position of victory.

“Pre-poll reports from the ground indicate that voters are shifting from the SP, especially upper castes such as Brahmins and Thakurs. Even Muslims are shifting. Thus, the party has decided to rope in candidates with clout and a higher index of winnability,” said a party functionary on the condition of anonymity.

Interestingly, the Ansari brothers’ Qaumi Ekta Dal was merged with the SP in July, but the alliance was annulled later due to Akhilesh Yadav’s objections.

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Similarly, Akhilesh Yadav is said to have objected to the entry of mafia don-turned-politician Ateek Ahmed into the party and also promoting Raja Bhaiyya, who is already an SP MLA from Kunda in Pratapgarh district.

“See the Ansaris, Ahmed and Raghuraj Pratap (Raja Bhaiyya) are extremely popular and apart from winning themselves, they command enormous influence in their home districts and adjoining areas. Therefore, the party wants all of them to work for the party and win over as many voters as possible,” said an SP leader, who claims to be close to Shivpal Yadav, the UP president of the party.

The Samajwadi Party leader said that the party plans to field faces like Mukhtar Ansari and Ateek Ahmed from Muslim-majority areas to woo minority voters.

“Instead of his home constituency in Mau, Mukhtar Ansari may be fielded from somewhere in western UP. Ateek Ahmed may be fielded from Kanpur. Similarly, west UP strongman D.P. Yadav may also be called to contest as the elections draw near,” said the SP leader.

Rajendra Chaudhary refused to comment when questioned about the criminal records of the “musclemen” the SP plans to field.

Political commentators like Kubool Ahmed see the induction of musclemen into the SP as the party returning to its basics.

“The SP government under Akhilesh Yadav has not done anything remarkable to win the confidence of the public. Apart from offering a few jobs and laptops, they have nothing to showcase as sound development work. Besides, party leaders have realised that Akhilesh Yadav’s efforts to clean the party have remained a non-starter, as most of the people who Akhilesh supported, like Abhishek Mishra and Anil Bhadoria remain unknown to the people of Uttar Pradesh. Party leaders have realised that Akhilesh Yadav is on track of Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, who will generate goodwill but will not ensure election victories. Hence, his uncle Shivpal Yadav has taken control of the party and wants to focus on candidates who will ensure clout and ballot, despite the heavy criminal baggage these leaders carry on their shoulders,” said Kubool Ahmed.

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