The battle of ballots in Uttar Pradesh has intensified along with the heat as polling enters the war zone — 47 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state’s eastern half — packed with the most high-profile candidates in the country.
The challenge before the heavyweight candidates is not their own victory or their victory margin; it is of their ability to turn their popularity into seats for their respective parties beyond their strongholds, analysts say. The degree of difficulty has increased because eastern UP has not yet been touched by the communal polarisation of the western parts after the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Ghanshyam Pandey, who runs a college in Maharajganj attributes this to poverty and lack of exposure to the world beyond.
BJP insiders say the party’s upsurge in western UP (first two phases) slowed somewhat after polling entered the ‘Yadav territory’ in the third phase on Thursday. But Kannauj-based political scientist Arun Tiwari and his Agra counterpart KS Rana believe the live telecast of Narendra Modi’s road-show in Varanasi changed the voters’ mood there.
The telecast apparently turned the battle tough in 11 constituencies on the Yadav turf including Etawah, Kannauj, Ferozabad and Farukhabad — close to SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Mainpuri constituency. That the prestige of UP’s first family is linked to winning these four family seats is common knowledge.
The acid test for the key drivers thus starts after their spectacular road-shows — Mulayam Singh Yadav in Mainpuri and Azamgarh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli and Amethi and Narendra Modi in Varanasi — where their supporters had literally converted their nomination journeys into victory processions.
Of the 58 seats at stake, 29 are in Purvanchal (east), 14 in Awadh and 15 in Doab (including 11 in the Yadav territory that went to polls last Thursday). The Congress did unexpectedly well in 2009, winning the most Purvanchal-Awadh-Doab seats followed by SP and BSP while the BJP had finished a poor fourth.
Reports emanating from the war zone, as of now, indicate both SP and BSP are expected to hold on to most of their seats despite the Modi hype. “Mulayam’s decision to contest from Azamgarh besides Mainpuri saved SP from disaster in the east,” said political analyst Banwari Lal Jalan.
SP is eyeing Lalganj, Jaunpur, Ballia and Machlishahr from Azamgarh where Mulayam is contesting while the Gandhis, despite the perceived anti-Congress wave, would like to retain Pratapgarh, Sultanpur and Barabanki seats along with Rae Bareli and Amethi. And though Mayawati has not taken a plunge in the poll arena herself, she has her pockets of influence in the most backward region of the state with concentration of Dalit population.
But BJP is confident that the Modi tsunami will take the war zone by storm in the coming days with the momentum increasing through the phases. Party president Rajnath Singh, expecting 61 seats from the state, told HT: “Our performance will improve with every phase as BJP has succeeded in demolishing caste vote banks like they did in 1998 when it had won their highest of 58 seats.”
Though the party has kept Ayodhya on the backburner, Mahant Adityanath, a polarising figure, is out in his pockets of influence in the Gorakhpur region.
Others are raising the Hindutva issue strategically but the party leadership is aware that SP and BSP are capable of putting up a stiff fight as caste still remains the driving force in the rural areas.