Political conservatism in India is usually associated with right-wing traditionalist positions infused with religion, or with forms of economic liberal conservatism, the kind of which the Swatantra Party briefly incarnated. This article asks if the notion of conservatism can be useful to study non-Hindu right parties, by considering the trajectory of the Samajwadi Party, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Born out of the socialist tradition, the Samajwadi Party spearheaded the struggle for reservations, secularism and the quest of power of the middle peasantry, in the early 1990s. It gradually transformed into a family holding associated with caste preferentialism, cronyism and the criminalization of politics. This article seeks to account for these transformations by examining the party’s trajectory since its origins, its ideological underpinnings and the evolution of its sociological composition, placed in the context of changing electoral politics in UP.