SP hardsells Harvard boycott to woo minority vote (News Analysis)

Lucknow, April 30 (IANS) Concerned that its appeal among Muslim voters was dimming, Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) is on an overdrive to hardsell its boycott of a Harvard lecture after minister Azam Khan was detained at Boston airport as “standing up to imperialist US”.

Azam Khan’s detention last week led to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav boycotting the lecture at the Harvard Business School on the successful management of the Kumbh Mela and also a civic reception held in his honour by the Indian consulate. While the party has since been attacking the US in its bid to become a “mascot of anti-Americanism”, Azam Khan also blamed External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.

Soon after his return from the US Monday, Azam Khan announced that the state was cancelling all future trips by its ministers to the US. As if on cue, Vidhan Sabha Speaker Mata Prasad Pandey late Monday cancelled the US leg of his Commonwealth tour beginning May 20.

Public Works Department (PWD) Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav also wrote to US President Barack Obama on the issue.

Party strategists say the attack on Khurshid, added to the anti-US campaign, was a “well thought one”.

As an SP functionary put it: “Our minority vote bank had been dented owing to the killing of a Muslim cop and the 28 plus communal flare-ups but we hope all that would be a thing of past.”

The party is making the most of the opportunity given to it.

Party spokesperson and Prisons Minister Rajendra Chowdhary hailed Akhilesh Yadav for “standing up against unjust and anti-Muslim America”, a stand he said was in line with the SP’s socialist ethos.

Supporting the chief minister’s decision to boycott all engagements in the US, Chowdhary said to IANS: “What is wrong in it?”

His party colleague, SP national general secretary Ram Asrey Kushwaha added that Akhilesh Yadav’s move “would send the right message among the Muslims”.

With general elections due next year, party insiders admit that in the coming days the party would go into overdrive to tell its crucial Muslim vote bank that the SP has stood for them on foreign shores.

The state bureaucracy is, however, unimpressed as is the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“This is a plan hatched long back but sadly they are now compromising on national respect for petty political gains,” said BJP spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak. He said the SP was trying to break the Congress hold on fringe Muslim seats in Uttar Pradesh by raising the anti-US bogey.

An official added that Akhilesh Yadav should have been more “statesman like” and not been “swayed by the pressure built by his ministerial colleague Mohd. Azam Khan”.

“It has been a very sad week,” mused a senior industrial department official, pointing out that the work on creating an industry and investment friendly environment in the state has been undone by this US trip.

“The behaviour of the CM sadly is very amateur and unbecoming of a state’s chief executive,” added an official.

“If any offence was taken by the UP delegation on the ‘extended frisking’ of its urban development minister, the CM should have taken it up during his lecture,” said another.

The fate of the chief minister’s visit to the US in July on the invitation of the US India Business Council (USIBC) also now hangs in balance. The chief minister is scheduled to visit Boston, New York, Chicago and other American cities to boost investment chances in the state.

The road shows and other engagements that were planned for Akhilesh Yadav’s July trip to US have “for now been put on hold”, sources told IANS.

“There is no word yet, but we presume that it would no longer be a smooth trip, if it was to go the way we planned it,” said an office bearer of the USIBC.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])

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