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Shade of saffron: to counter BJP in 2017, SP throws sops at Hindus

Rohit Ghosh | Updated on: 2 November 2015, 21:09 IST

The turn

  • SP has launched a series of schemes exclusively for Hindus
  • The party fears its pro-Muslim image will cost it in 2017 polls
  • The schemes: state-funded pilgrimages to Tirupati, Haridwar, Puri

The counter

  • BJP says voters are \'too smart to fall for this communal politics\'
  • Congress says SP and BJP are two sides of the same coin
  • BSP asks what the SP regime has done to prevent riots

The Samajwadi Party, it seems, is trying to beat the BJP at its own game in Uttar Pradesh. The party, clearly with an eye on the 2017 election, is peddling its own brand of soft Hindutva.

Consider what the Akhilesh Yadav government has been up to in the past few months.

In March, the chief minister introduced the Samajwadi Shravan Kumar Yatra, to take elderly Hindus on pilgrimage to Haridwar and Rishikesh, on the state's expense. The scheme was modelled on Mukhyamantri Teertha Darshan Yojna, launched by Madhya Pradesh's BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in 2012.

The government has since been boasting what a success the scheme has been. Indeed, this success was cited as a reason for funding a similar pilgrimage to Pushkar and Ajmer.

This month, Akhilesh intends to send a group to elderly pilgrims to Tirupati and Rameshwaram. Next on the itinerary is a trip to Jagannath temple in Puri. The government has launched a website to publicise the pilgrimages.

The state has announced a subsidy of Rs 50,000 each to pilgrims going to Kailash-Mansoravar. And those going on the Sindhu Yatra will get a subsidy of Rs 10,000.

The state is planning to take over the management of two important Hindu shrines, Banke Bihari temple in Mathura and Vindhyachal Devi temple in Mirzapur. The temples are currently managed by trusts.

Hindu appeasement?

Is there more to these initiatives than merely lending a helping hand to the pilgrims?

"The government did not mention any scheme exclusively for the Hindus in its 2012 manifesto. Now it is organising pilgrimages for Hindus. Why?" asked political analyst Manoj Tripathi.

"It seems UP is being ruled by the BJP and not by the SP," Tripathi said. "The schemes being launched by Akhilesh Yadav for the Hindus are generally the forte of BJP chief ministers."

He added, "Shivraj Singh Chouhan introducing a scheme at whose core lies Hindu religion can be understood. But why is Akhilesh doing so? Of course, he has an eye on Hindu votes."

"Mostly people from rural areas benefit from these schemes. Once they return from the pilgrimages, they will say good things about the SP, or so the thinking goes. The SP is seen as pro-Muslim, so the party needs Hindu votes when it faces Narendra Modi in 2017."

The BJP is aware of the play, of course. The party's UP president Laxmi Kant Sharma told Catch, "The BJP is a secular party. But the SP is not a secular party. They are trying to pamper the Hindus with an eye on the assembly election. Akhilesh wants to shed the SP's anti-Hindu or pro-Muslim image. Hence these schemes."

"Akhilesh is trying to confuse the voters ahead of the polls, but they are too intelligent to fall for it," Sharma added.

Akhilesh wants to shed the SP's anti-Hindu or pro-Muslim image. Hence these schemes, says BJP

Soft version of BJP?

The Congress, which competes with the SP for the state's Muslim vote, also tore into the state government.

The party alleged that the SP and the BJP were two sides of the same coin as "both divide people along communal lines".

"What has the SP done for the development of the state? Industry after industry is closing. Infrastructure is in bad shape. Industrialists are shifting to other states and Akhilesh is busy sending people on pilgrimages," said senior Congress leader Shailendra Dixit.

"This shows the SP wants to rule by dividing the society on communal grounds."

The BSP raised similar questions. "This government has failed on all fronts. UP is witnessing communal riots again and again. What is the government doing?" a senior party leader asked. "It's bringing one religious scheme after another. This shows the party is communal and is trying to appease the Hindus."

SP leader: We can't withdraw the schemes now or we'll be accused of being pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu

In its defence, the SP insisted that it wasn't playing the communal card. A party leader said, "The tag of being anti-Hindu or pro-Muslim has stuck to us. Had launched a similar scheme for the Muslims, we would have been accused of being pro-Muslim."

"Now that we are trying to do something that would be beneficial to poor Hindus, it is said that we are appeasing Hindus with an eye on the assembly election. We can't withdraw the schemes now or we will have to face all the old accusations."

The SP's rightward turn, it seems, won't see a course correction anytime soon.

First published: 2 November 2015, 21:09 IST