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In east UP, can BJP hold on to gains against SP-BSP coalition?

BJP national president Amit Shah camped in the holy city to put the house in order. PM Modi held two back-to back road shows, addressed three rallies and participated in a dialogue with 2,000 prominent people of Kashi that actually proved to be the game changer.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 12, 2019 07:20 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times
BJP,Amit Shah,PM Modi
SP and its one-time arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have formed an alliance , hoping to turn caste dynamics in their favour and stop the BJP’s resurgent march in UP.(Subhankar Chakraborty/HT FILE PHOTO)

Ahead of the 2017 assembly elections in the state, people were sceptical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning all eight seats in the Kashi region, including the five assembly segments under Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As the personal prestige of the PM himself was at stake, several Union ministers were deployed to iron out differences within the BJP over the selection of candidates.

BJP national president Amit Shah camped in the holy city to put the house in order. Modi held two back-to back road shows, addressed three rallies and participated a dialogue with 2,000 prominent people of Kashi that actually proved to be the game changer.

Believing in the dictum that everything is fair in love and war, the PM ignored the eyebrows that his intensive campaign in a state assembly election raised. BJP won all the eight seats – five more than in the 2012 assembly elections.

Then BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya said, “Modi magic worked and now this win would pave the way for his second innings as PM in 2019.”

However, the road to power is never smooth in a state where every election throws up both pre- and post-poll surprises.

If in the 2017 assembly polls, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress came together under the leadership of then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, a more formidable alliance has been stitched together in the Lok Sabha polls this time around.

SP and its one-time arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have formed an alliance , hoping to turn caste dynamics in their favour and stop the BJP’s resurgent march in UP. In 2019, the saffron ride appears bumpy, especially in the 27 constituencies going to the polls in the last two phases.

They are spread over the most backward regions of the state and yet development is not an issue here. Explaining the caste calculus, political expert Badri Narayan said: “The caste combination of the alliance, coupled with the candidate’s caste, ensures electoral victory for the BSP. And Mayawati has carefully fielded candidates to increase her core vote.” The Dalits form the main support base of the BSP. He quotes the example of Sant Kabir Nagar, which has three dominant castes — Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims.

“The BSP has fielded a Brahmin, Bheeshm Shanker alias Kushal Tiwari, who will secure some support of his community despite BJP’s Praveen Nishad.”

Narayan said, “The last two phases are going to throw some very close contests though the alliance is apparently on a strong wicket.” Interestingly, Mayawati is contesting 11 of the 14 seats going to the polls in the sixth phase and five of the 13 in the seventh and final phase. Her supporters have been galvanised by Akhilesh Yadav extending his support for her candidature for the prime ministership.

While clearing all speculations about the possibility of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav throwing his hat in the ring in case of a hung Parliament emerging from the general elections, Akhilesh said his father was not in the race for the PM’s post. SP is contesting three and eight seats in the next two phases.

SP and BSP leaders are confident of many wins primarily because of the caste dynamics that work to their advantage in a scenario dominated by identity and not issues. BJP has also done its bit of social engineering by winning over the non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav other backward classes (BCs). “The upper caste, especially Brahmins, may be divided as they are not happy with the performance of the state government,” Prayagraj-based election analyst MP Dube said.

Strangely, it is only after you cross Prayagraj and enter the Varanasi and Gorakhpur regions that you get to hear about the disenchantment of the Brahmins with the BJP.

“While Muslims will do tactical voting, Dalits will go with Mayawati as her messengers are active in rural areas, giving them the confidence that she can be the Prime Minister,” Dube said. Surendra Pratap Singh, a professor from Varanasi, said: “The election is on caste lines with no other issues, including nationalism, resonating among the masses. Barring Varanasi, BJP is not comfortable in East UP as the Modi magic fails to cut through caste calculations,” he said.

The Congress’s attempt to revive its fortunes in the region is causing unease to both the BJP and the alliance, depending on the caste complexion of individual constituencies. Political experts believe the upper castes that are unhappy with the BJP may have found an alternative in the Congress .

Similarly, Muslims are supporting the Congress wherever its candidate is engaged in a direct fight with the BJP. Besides the Prime Minister, many stalwarts are seeking re-election to the Lok Sabha from this region. Though chief minister Yogi Adityanath is a star campaigner and not a candidate, his prestige is also at stake in his bastion, Gorakhpur, which he lost to the alliance in a 2018 by-election.

The BJP has fielded Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan instead of a time-tested political candidate in a constituency that Adityanath represented since 1998 until becoming UP chief minister in 2017.

Deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya also lost Phulpur in a by-election. The vacancy was caused by his resignation from the seat after joining the state cabinet in 2017.

Union ministers Maneka Gandhi, Anupriya Patel and Manoj Sinha are also locked in interesting battles. From the opposition camp, SP national president Akhilesh Yadav is contesting Azamgarh and former Union minister RPN Singh (Congress) Kushinagar.

First Published: May 12, 2019 06:54 IST

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