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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Will caste equation trump Ram temple issue in Jalalpur once again?

  Updated: Oct 20, 2019 19:25 IST
Hindustantimes
         

In 1992, sixty-year-old Shiv Pratap Shukla, a native of Rafiganj in Jalalpur, marched along with hundreds of ‘karsewaks’ to Ayodhya -- located about 80km away -- to participate in the Ram temple movement.

Recalling the event, he said, “The temple movement mobilised people across caste lines and leaders of the saffron brigade were welcomed like heroes. The constituency was virtually swathed in the saffron hue. Despite that in the successive electoral battles, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) failed to win the seat.”

Even during the height of the Ram temple movement or the demolition of the mosque, the Ambedkar Nagar area did not witness any communal tension although curfew had to be imposed in neighbouring districts.

“It was the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that converted Ambedkar Nagar into its stronghold, securing victories in consecutive Lok Sabha / assembly elections,” said Shukla.

BSP chief Mayawati has represented the seat six times in the Lok Sabha. She launched several development and welfare initiatives here, converting the area into her party’s bastion.

During the 2007 Lok Sabha polls, the Samajwadi Party secured victory in the by-poll but the BSP regained its lost fortress in the 2009 general elections.

In was the ‘Modi wave’ of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that finally delivered the seat to the BJP. However, in the 2017 assembly polls, the BSP stopped the saffron party’s winning streak by bagging three out of five assembly seats in the area, including Jalalpur. The BSP again proved its might by bagging the Ambedkar Nagar seat in the 2019 general elections.

Now, the stage is once again set for the electoral battle among the political rivals -- BJP, SP, BSP and Congress -- with the Jalalpur assembly seat falling vacant after sitting BSP MLA, Ritesh Pandey, got elected to the Lok Sabha.

In the busy Shafipur market, locals can be heard talking about the Supreme Court’s pending verdict on the disputed site in Ayodhya as well as preparations for the grand ‘Deepotsav’ being planned there. “Although Jalalpur is so close to Ayodhya, still it is the caste equation that will decide the fate of the candidates here,” said trader Sri Kumar Gupta.

CANDIDATES IN FRAY

The BJP has fielded Rajesh Singh, a faculty member in the Awadh University and a Thakur by caste. The Congress has pinned its hopes on another teacher, Sunil Mishra, who works at a local inter-college and is a Brahmin. Fielding yet another inter-college teacher is Samajwadi Party, whose candidate, Subhash Rai, is a Bhumihar Brahmin. The BSP candidate is a doctor, Chhaya Verma. She is the daughter of Lalji Verma, leader of the BSP legislature party in the assembly and a prominent OBC face.

The BSP is reportedly working on a Dalit-Muslim-Backward formula to retain the seat, while the SP is banking on the support of the backwards and the Muslims. Meanwhile, the Congress is trying to mobilise the upper castes and the Muslims in its favour.

That the BJP has turned this by-poll into a battle for prestige can be gauged by chief minister Yogi Adityanath twice addressing public meetings here and highlighting the Centre and the state’s development projects as well as issues like Article 370 and triple talaq. The party has mobilised its cadre and battery of ministers and MLAs to campaign for Rajesh Singh, whose father Sher Badhadur Singh has represented the seat in the UP assembly on tickets from BJP, SP and BSP.

Political pundits say that Singh still has considerable influence over voters from the Thakur community. Influential Thakur leaders such as Sudhir Singh Mintu, chairman of the zila panchayat, and Anil Singh have expressed their allegiance with the ruling BJP, they say.

Meanwhile, with BSP chief Mayawati busy in the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections, state unit president Munkad Ali, zonal coordinator Tribhuvan Dutt, sitting MP Ritesh Pandey and Lalji Verma are leading the party’s campaign here.

Earlier, the BSP has fielded former MP Rakesh Pandey (Ritesh Pandey’s father) from the seat. However, this time, Rakesh expressed his inability to contest, citing health issues. Party strategists hope that despite not being in the fray, Pandey will get help get Chhaya Verma the support of the Brahmins.

As far as the Congress is concerned, the party’s UP president Ajay Kumar Lallu and local leaders are managing the campaign for its candidate Sunil Mishra. Congress is trying to mobilise the youths and the Brahmin community in Mishra’s favour.

Similarly, top SP leaders and MLAs are campaigning for party candidate Subhash Rai. Sources from the SP said that Rai had an edge over his rivals due to his “social work and accessibility”.

Whatever be the result, locals are happy that all parties have fielded educated candidates. “The contest is among three teachers and a doctor,” said Mohammad Idrish, who runs a vehicle workshop on the Jalalpur-Malipur highway. “Whoever wins, we will have a qualified and educated person as our representative in the legislative assembly,” he said.