Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati addressed two rallies barely at a distance of 15km from each other in Barabanki district, which has a sizeable presence of Muslim voters that both parties are eyeing.
In terms of composition and crowd size both the rallies, however, presented a contrasting picture. Rahul’s rally at Zaidpur (reserved seat), much to the Congress’s delight, drew a large number of Muslims.
BSP’s mainstay, Dalits dominated the Mayawati-show at Badel in Barabanki assembly constituency. Her rally though attracted a bigger crowd.
The Congress sources said there could not be a comparison between the two rallies as Rahul was campaigning for the party’s lone candidate from Barabanki district Tanuj Punia, son of Congress Rajya Sabha member PL Punia. Mayawati on the other hand was seeking votes for party candidates contesting in all the six assembly constituencies in the district.
Poll analysts say a division of Muslim votes between BSP and SP-Congress alliance could benefit BJP in the assembly elections in the country’s most populous and electorally crucial state.
“There is no question of a division of Muslim votes barring in the seats where BSP has fielded candidates from the community. Muslims are strongly behind the the Congress-SP alliance,” said Mohammad Hamza, resident of Zaidpur.
Mohammad Khalid, resident of Dariyabad assembly constituency in the district, agrees.
“Muslims are with the BSP only in the seats where the party has fielded a candidate from the minority community,” he said, adding, “Barabanki is a stronghold of the Kurmis. A sizeable number of them are now turning to the BSP.”
BSP sources are claiming that even Rakesh Verma, son of former union minister and SP’s Rajya Sabha MP Beni Prasad Verma has come out openly in support of the party. Beni Prasad is a prominent Kurmi leader in the state.
Tone and tenor in the two rallies were also different.
Rahul directed his tirade primarily at the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, over demonetisation of high-value currency, which, he said, caused lots of hardship to the poor.
“The Narendra Modi government has completed two-and-a-half years in office. He has delivered long addresses to the people. What has he done for them? Narendra Modiji can lecture the people. But he cannot work for them,” Rahul said amid loud applause.
The Congress leader said the alliance will form the next government and it will focus on creating avenues for the youths.
Rahul did not utter a word against Mayawati or her party.
The BSP chief did not hold any punch against the Congress. She said the party has given up on its ideology by joining hands with the anti-minority SP.
The SP rule has become a symbol of ‘goondaraj’, she said. She also hit out at chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, saying the SP chief was giving more publicity to the BSP’s poll symbol than campaigning for his own party.
She also flayed the BJP, saying the party is following the RSS agenda.