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Can SP exorcise Babri ghost?

In earlier elections Kalyan Singh, 77, twice chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, crisscrossed the length and breadth of his state by helicopter addressing half-a-dozen rallies each day. This time, having quit the BJP and contesting as an Independent from Etah — his election symbol a forlorn empty glass — Kalyan was not seen campaigning until the third phase. Brajendra K Parashar reports.
By Brajendra K Parashar | Hindustan Times, Etah
UPDATED ON MAY 07, 2009 12:59 AM IST

How have the mighty fallen! In earlier elections Kalyan Singh, 77, twice chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, crisscrossed the length and breadth of his state by helicopter addressing half-a-dozen rallies each day.

This time, having quit the BJP and contesting as an Independent from Etah — his election symbol a forlorn empty glass — Kalyan was not seen campaigning until the third phase. He has confined himself to a handful of seats in West and West-Central UP that have a sizeable number of Lodhs, the backward caste he belongs to.

Workers of the Samajwadi Party, which is supporting him, reveal that chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, rattled by the Muslim opposition to his teaming up with Kalyan, ensured the latter did not campaign outside the Lodh belt.

But even in his own seat of Etah, Kalyan is unlikely to coast to victory, the way he used to — be it as an assembly candidate or a Lok Sabha nominee — when he was with the BJP. In the absence of any issues, voters are expected to divide along caste lines, and the only votes Kalyan can be sure of are those of the Lodhs, around 13 per cent of the electorate.

Yadavs and Muslims respectively comprise 12 and 9.5 per cent of Etah’s voters, and with the SP supporting him, Kalyan is banking on their votes as well.

Indeed it is the SP which presently holds the seat, having won the last poll by a slim 5,000 margin.

But locals believe Kalyan is being too optimistic. His BSP rival Devendra Singh Yadav, a Yadav himself, is bound to cut into the Yadav vote. As for Muslims, despite all Kalyan’s recent explanations and protestations, they have not forgotten that he was CM when the Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992.

“Only Muslims who are very deeply attached to the Samajwadi Party will vote for Kalyan,” said Bhure Khan 50, of Kamalpur village.

BSP’s Devendra, with the entire 11.4 per cent scheduled caste votes behind him, as well as part of the Yadav vote, is a strong opponent. Stronger still, according to locals, is the BJP’s Shyam Singh Shakya, who expects not only the 10 per cent Shakya vote, but also, as a BJP candidate, the nearly 30 per cent upper caste vote.

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