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Samajwadi Party bicycle rally
39 days and counting: In India, the longest bike rally in history rolls on
A political party in India is using a 100-day bicycle rally to raise support and reach voters
On August 10, supporters of the Samajwadi Party (SP) departed from the party headquarters in Prayagraj, in Uttar Pradesh in the north of India, to begin a party rally that is expected to last for 100 days and cover as many as 25,000km. Now, 39 days on and with over 2,600km covered, organisers claim it is the longest-running bicycle rally in history.
The rally, called the 'Desh Bachao Desh Banao Samajwadi Cycle Yatra', consists of nearly 100 cyclists. Most of the participants are youth leaders and workers for the party, but local office-bearers and legislators are said to be joining from time to time. The riders are covering around 70km a day as they progress from village to village.
The riders are accompanied by a support vehicle containing some tools, a bicycle mechanic, water, and an amplification system for blasting music and party messages. As they ride through Uttar Pradesh state, they are hosting public debates, distributing pamphlets, and bringing a party atmosphere.
The SP are a regional political party based in the state of Uttar Pradesh. They are using the ride to raise awareness for the party and the issues with the current government.
For the SP, bicycles are extremely important. The party's election symbol is a bicycle, and bicycle rallies have historically been the party's preferred way of campaigning, with prominent leaders of the party taking to the streets on two wheels ahead of elections.
Notably, in 2018, the party organised the 'Desh Bachao, Desh Banao' ride a bicycle rally spanning 27 days and covering 1,500km in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.
This year's rally has been organised around specific dates, significant to the party. For example, the first phase of the ride ends on the birthday of party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the ride is set to end on January 26 – Republic Day, when India celebrates the inception of the Constitution of India, 1950.
Speaking to a local outlet, the Hindustan Times, Abhishek Yadav, the president of the youth wing of the party, spoke of his ambitions for the rally:
"We aim to cover a distance of over 25,000km in two phases – spanning all the 80 Lok Sabha [the constituencies of the lower house in India's parliament] and 403 assembly constituencies in the state."
With 61 days and over 22,000km still ahead, it's early days for the SP rally. Time will tell whether the party's unique approach to campaigning will have the desired effect, but regardless of the political outcomes, there can be little doubt that the Samajwadi Party delegates will be among the fittest politicians in India.