New Delhi: The bicycle—election symbol of the Samajwadi Party (SP)—is at the centre of a face-off between Uttar Pradesh’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and the SP led by former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s administration decided last month to demolish cycle tracks laid during the SP regime, blaming them for traffic congestion. The BJP came to power by winning the February-March Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly elections, ousting the SP.
Hitting out at the government, Akhilesh Yadav promised compensation of Rs10 lakh to the family of any cyclist killed in a road accident—when the SP returns to power.
“Cycling is beneficial for health, environment and economy," Yadav wrote on Twitter on 4 July. He also said that the party will extend these cycle tracks and encourage tourism through bicycles on returning to power.
“The SP government will provide a compensation of Rs10 lakh to any cyclist killed in accident and stress will be given on encouraging tourism through bicycle after coming to power," said a party statement citing Yadav.
While the SP may indeed be promoting the use of the bicycle out of health and environmental concerns, it could also be a part of SP’s outreach to the non-Yadav other backward class (OBC) voters who drifted to the BJP over the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 assembly elections.
After being reduced to just 47 seats in the 403-member state assembly, the party launched a two-month, state-wide membership drive on 15 April to rebuild the SP.
The move to compensate cyclists killed in road accidents will help the party reach out to people across castes and class, said an SP leader from Lucknow who did not wish to be named.
“This is a big mistake made by the Yogi Adityanath government. Everyone knows there is a particular class of people, across professions, who use bicycles on a daily basis. Be it students, farmers, daily wage labourers, cycling is a very common mode of transport in UP. While the idea is to encourage the use of bicycle, something that has been promoted by the party in the past, this will also help us reach out to the affected people," the SP leader said.
Analysts say that cycle tracks, in principle, are important for both road safety and the environment. If their location is a problem and leading to traffic snarls, they may have to be demolished.
“The important question here is to ask why the tracks are being demolished—if the reasons are politically determined or there are genuine flaws in the plan such as problems with the site or the way the construction was done," said Kanchi Kohli, a New-Delhi based environment researcher.