Lok Sabha elections 2019: A cakewalk for political heavyweights in UP election race
Political heavyweights don’t lose elections. They simply receive a walkover from opponents and end up as also-rans. It’s no different this time.
Barring Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who is locked in a tough contest with Union minister Smriti Irani in his family bastion of Amethi, heavyweights across the political spectrum in Uttar Pradesh will find that their election to the 17th Lok Sabha was a bit of a cakewalk, when the results are declared on May 23.
The reason: weak challengers. These political heavyweights are assured of being served victory on a platter unless history repeats itself and we have another outcome like the one in Rae Bareli in 1977 when Raj Narain defeated Indira Gandhi. To be sure, the socialist politician was not exactly a non-entity and his victory was helped by Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule.
Political heavyweights in the fray in UP include Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Rajnath Singh, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Samajwadi Party patron Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son and SP national president, Akhilesh Yadav.
For these leaders, an electoral win is a foregone conclusion. What they don’t know yet is the victory margin. The Bharatiya Janata Party is already claiming that Modi is set to break all records in Varanasi. Modi filed his nomination papers on Friday with the top National Democratic Alliance leadership by his side. The BJP’s target is a victory margin of 700,000 votes for the PM, up from 371,000 votes that separated him and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal in 2014.
The PM has also boosted the BJP’s campaign saying: “I will be happy only if I win from all booths.” The Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency has 1802 booths and goes to the polls on May 19 .
The two main opponents of Prime Minister Modi are Ajay Rai of the Congress and Shalini Yadav of the SP. Both are turncoats. Social worker Ajay Rai fought the 2009 Lok Sabha polls on an SP ticket, but joined the Congress ahead of 2014.
The Congress’s morale dipped after party leadership quashed speculation about Priyanka Gandhi taking on the PM in Varanasi.
“Varanasi can spring surprises. She may not have won the seat, but would have given a good fight,” a Congress worker said.
The candidacy of SP’s Shalini Yadav from Varanasi was announced on April 22, the day she joined the party. Until then, she had been accompanying Congress general secretary (east UP) Priyanka Gandhi on her Ganga yatra. She is the daughter-in-law of Shyam Lal Yadav, a former Congress member of the Rajya Sabha. She contested the Varanasi mayoral election unsuccessfully in 2017.
In Azamgarh, SP president Akhilesh Yadav faces no contest at all. While the Congress has not fielded a candidate against him, the BJP decided to field Bhojpuri movie star Dinesh Lal Yadav, popularly known as Nirahua, who is fighting his first election.
Intense speculation greeted the SP chief’s announcement of the party’s decision to field a strong candidate against Rajnath Singh, who is seeking a second term from Lucknow, a seat that was once held by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It turned out to be Poonam Sinha, wife of actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, whose roots lie in Bihar. By the time Sinha gets to know Lucknow and its unique culture, the election would be history.
Mainpuri is also staring at a no-contest. SP patron Mulayam Singh Yadav’s emotional pitch to voters on the eve of what he says will be his last electoral contest, coupled with support from arch rival-turned-poll partner Bahujan Samaj Party and the absence of any challenge from the Congress, has made his victory all too predictable.The BJP has virtually conceded a walkover to Mulayam Singh by fielding a low-profile local businessman, Prem Singh Shakya, in Mainpuri.
While the BJP claims to be determined to defeat Rahul Gandhi, it has not targeted Sonia Gandhi and her seat, Rae Bareli. Like in 2014, it has once again named a weak candidate, Dinesh Pratap Singh, a former Congress member of the legislative council.
The middle rung
Second-rung leaders find themselves in interesting contests. Union minister Maneka Gandhi is fighting Sanjay Singh of the Congress, a one-time friend of her late husband Sanjay Gandhi, in Sultanpur. Another minister, Anupriya Patel, faces a challenge from late Congressman Kamlapati Tripathi’s great grandson, Lalitesh Pati Tripathi. Rashtriya Lok Dal president Choudhary Ajit Singh is facing a fight from BJP leader Sanjiv Baliyan in Muzaffarnagar.
Political expert Vinod Chand Dube from Allahabad says, “ Ram Manohar Lohia [the late socialist leader] always wanted strong leaders, irrespective of party affiliations, in Parliament for healthy debate. Why should leaders waste their energy in a constituency that they cannot win? After all , democracy is all about numbers.”
Mulayam Singh, perhaps inadvertently, provided the answer once. Irritated over criticism of his government in mid-2000, the then chief minister told BJP’s Ram Prakash Tripathi, “Now you will question the performance of the government? Have you forgotten that we had not fielded a candidate against you? I firmly believe in maintaining democratic traditions. There are so many times when we do not field candidates against our friends in the Opposition or do not campaign in their constituencies.”