Kushinagar: BJP eyeing a hat-trick in land of Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana - Hindustan Times
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Kushinagar: BJP eyeing a hat-trick in land of Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana

May 30, 2024 10:02 PM IST

With Swami Prasad Maurya also in the fray, the contest has become more intriguing, as the Samajwadi Party is too looking for its maiden win.

KUSHINAGAR: In the land of Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana, the Bharatiya Janata Party is aiming for a third consecutive victory in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, while the Samajwadi Party is striving to secure a maiden win in a seat it has repeatedly failed to capture despite the sizable presence of its core support base—Muslims and Yadavs.

A scion of the erstwhile Padrauna estate, RPN Singh has considerable influence over OBC voters in the region. (Sourced)
A scion of the erstwhile Padrauna estate, RPN Singh has considerable influence over OBC voters in the region. (Sourced)

The BJP has renominated its sitting MP Vijay Dubey from Kushinagar, which goes to the polls in the seventh phase on June 1. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Ajai Pratap Singh, alias Pintu Sainthwar, son of former BJP MLA Janmejay Singh, who belongs to the dominant Sainthwar community. The BSP has fielded Subha Narayan Chauhan from the OBC Nonia community. However, the entry of Swami Prasad Maurya, who has floated the Rashtriya Shoshit Samaj Party (RSSP) after breaking ties with the Samajwadi Party, has made the contest intriguing.

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A soldier of Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), floated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in 2009 to spread the Hindutva agenda in rural areas of East Uttar Pradesh, Vijay Dubey is relying on Yogi’s charisma to secure victory in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Additionally, the campaign efforts of former Congress MP RPN Singh, who joined BJP before the 2022 assembly election, have provided a significant boost for Dubey. A scion of the erstwhile Padrauna estate, RPN Singh has considerable influence over OBC voters in the region.

Though Dubey won the 2019 Lok Sabha election with 56.68% of the vote, defeating SP-BSP alliance candidate Kushwaha and Congress candidate RPN Singh, the BJP has mobilised its resources, fearing that anti-incumbency against Dubey might benefit the SP-Congress alliance candidate. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president JP Nadda have addressed rallies in the constituency, while Yogi has held a series of public meetings in Kushinagar to safeguard the party’s prestige.

Playing the development card, BJP leaders are also highlighting the construction of international airport, the establishment of a medical college and agriculture university, the renovation of old sugar mills and the establishment of new ones, and the launch of road projects connecting rural areas with the district headquarters in Padrauna. The campaign also emphasises welfare projects, including housing, ration distribution, water supply, electricity connections, and the Ayushman health card, to win the support of OBC and Dalit voters.

The division of OBC votes, particularly among the Sainthwar and Kushwaha communities, traditionally considered BJP supporters, has raised concerns in the saffron camp. SP candidate Ajai Pratap Singh is appealing to his community to restore their ‘samman’ by sending him to the Lok Sabha. He highlighted that leaders from the Sainthwar community have historically won from the seat, while the BJP has fielded upper caste candidates in the 2014, 2019, and 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Singh also urged the OBCs to unite and give a befitting reply to the BJP in the election.

Addressing a public meeting on Tuesday, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav raised issues of unemployment, caste census, price rise, farmer exploitation, and the party’s fight to save the Constitution. Shiv Kumar Sainthwar, a resident of Hata town who attended the rally, noted that the community vote is divided. “In my town, the Sainthwar community vote will go to both SP and BJP,” he said.

Former Minister Swami Prasad Maurya, who was elected from the Padrauna assembly segment in Kushinagar district in the 2009 bypoll, and the 2012 and 2017 assembly elections on a BSP ticket, is receiving a good response in Kushwaha and Dalit-dominated villages. “I am not an outsider to Kushinagar and have worked for the development of the area as a minister in both the BSP and BJP governments,” he said.

A BJP leader, Om Prakash Singh, also acknowledged the potential impact of Maurya’s support among the OBC-Kushwaha community, which could dent BJP votes. “We are already working to counter the SP candidate’s appeal to the Sainthwar community by organising meetings with RPN Singh and other OBC leaders in Sainthwar-dominated villages,” he said.

Sarvesh Kushwaha, a resident of Fazilnagar, said that Swami Prasad Maurya’s is a big leader of his community. “As a minister in the state government he has worked for the welfare of the OBCs,” he said.

In the Dalit-dominated village of Sapaha, Suraj Gautam, a BSP booth-level worker, is campaigning door-to-door, urging residents to vote for Maurya. Gautam said that a significant portion of the Dalits in the village supported Maurya, who was a minister in Mayawati’s government.

Meanwhile, Govardhan Gaur, a native of Siswa village and head of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, which has protested against land acquisition for the Maitreya Buddha project, pointed out that the BJP’s decision to field upper-caste Brahmin candidates in Kushinagar, Deoria, and Gorakhpur had given the opposition a chance to claim that OBCs and Dalits were being sidelined. “To ensure the BJP’s success in the land of Buddha, the party should promote OBC leaders,” he said.

In the Musahar community-dominated village of Dhuria Bhat, residents have seen progress, with most villagers now living in pucca houses. However, Vishambhar Yadav, a resident of Nebua Naurangiya, highlighted the long-standing demand for a permanent bridge over the River Gandak to connect Kushinagar with adjacent Maharajganj district and neighbouring Bihar.

Khadda town, located north of Padrauna, has been a stronghold of Vijay Dubey, who was elected MLA from the constituency in 2012. His political influence is further demonstrated by his wife and son being elected as block pramukhs in the local bodies elections.

One of the most backward areas, the villages around Khadda were previously plagued by encephalitis, which claimed hundreds of children’s lives each year, said local resident Babu Ram Verma. “After Yogi ji became the chief minister, health facilities were improved and sanitation drives were launched on a war footing to free the area from the scourge of the disease,” said Ajit Prajapati, a resident of Khadda.

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