Driving through Mathura and Fatehpur Sikri to Firozabad past Agra is a ready reckoner on elements influencing elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Mathura is a pilgrim centre, Sikri a tourist attraction and Firozabad the glass industry hub famous for its bangles. Agra, with its Taj, needs no introduction.
Central to the political discourse in these areas is Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial pitch. But the intensity of his appeal varies, depending on factors ranging from caste to the aura of individual contestants and issues agitating the people.
Modi is for the BJP a gusty tailwind where the party has got these equations right despite robust opposition. A case in point is Firozabad, where chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple lost a parliamentary byelection to the Congress’s Raj Babbar in the aftermath of the 2009 polls.
Babbar’s stunning victory seemed to the Congress the ‘beginning of the end’ for the Samajwadi Party. As the BSP was then in power in UP, the Grand Old Party exultantly wrote off the SP and the BJP, declaring Mayawati as its sole surviving challenger in the key state.
The assertion had looked valid then. Firozabad adjoins Mulayam Singh’s Mainpuri-Etawah central UP fortresses that are still impregnable. But five years down the line, it’s the Congress that has vanished along the 200-km Mathura-Etawah stretch, accounting for six LS seats going to poll on April 24.
Jayant Chaudhary of the RLD, a Congress ally, is racing well against an inexperienced Hema Malini in Mathura. But it’s the SP and the BSP that are holding back a resurgent BJP in Fatehpur Sikri, Agra and Firozabad.
There is no evidence of a sizeable Yadav shift to the BJP that is buoyed essentially by the support of Jats, Rajputs, Vaishyas, Lodh-Rajputs, Baghels, a section of Brahmins and even non-Jatav Dalits.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. But many believe the social base of forward and subaltern castes that have gone on a rebound to the BJP could fare well against MaMu, local abbreviation for Mayawati and Mulayam with their respective Muslim-Jatav, Muslim-Yadav vote bank.
In the Yadav bastions of Etawah and Mainpuri, this writer came across Jatavs who might go with the BJP where the BSP cannot defeat Mulayam’s party. “Why waste our vote where BSP isn’t winning,” remarked a Jatav voter in Etawah. For a section of such electorate, the duty of defeating Mulayam comes before the pleasure of voting for the party of their choice.
Not that these discordant voices would make any difference in Mainpuri and Etawah. But Mulayam better beware against the potentially volcanic anger in his Yadav constituency against unlimited largesse doled out to his immediate and extended family members.
The point is tellingly made by the BJP’s Firozabad candidate, SP Singh Baghel. The former personal security officer of Mulayam deserted his mentor in 2009. His protest was against Akhilesh being given the seat he had thrice won.
Even now, Baghel’s opponent in Firozabad is Ram Gopal Yadav’s son Akshay. “My battle is against the family and the local administration that’s biased against me,” he said, asking for polls under the watch of paramilitary forces.
The BSP’s sitting member, Seema Upadhyaya, is rated ahead of the BJP’s Babu Lal and the RLD’s Amar Singh in Fatehpur Sikri. And in Mathura, Jayant’s best bet is his ancestry.
The Jats are angry with his father Ajit Singh. But his late grandfather, Charan Singh, always was and remains a papal figure for the community that aligned with the BJP after the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Jayant’s also running an efficient campaign. In contrast, Hema’s dependence on the Modi name is disproportionate, her electioneering disorganised and demeanour diffident. A newcomer to the area, she got on the wrong side of the EC’s model code when an RSS-run school shut classes for half a day to host an election meeting she addressed.
Worse still, Hema’s audience included students who neither had a vote nor an ear for what she said. They kept shouting ‘Modi, Modi’ while she struggled to get her message across in pidgin Hindi.