The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mayavati stakes pride on bypoll

Gauriganj, Feb. 18: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati has made the Gauriganj Assembly bypoll on February 26 a matter of her party’s prestige.

She is determined to challenge Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s authority in her Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi after daughter Priyanka took up the cause of a Dalit of Punnupur village. Gauriganj is part of Amethi.

Yeh hamari izzat ka saval hai (It’s a matter of our prestige),” Mayavati told Bahujan Samaj Party workers at Gauriganj. The seat fell vacant after the death of Congress MLA Noor Mohammad.

Congressmen are somewhat diffident about their party’s prospects, especially because neither Sonia nor Priyanka is scheduled to tour the constituency before the polls.

They said the bypoll would be a test of potency of the Sonia factor in reviving a dispirited Uttar Pradesh Congress. “If we win the seat, it will be only because of her,” said Gauriganj Congress chief Ramanand Shukla.

Noor Mohammed had won Gauriganj by a whisker of 267 votes against the BJP’s Tej Bhan Singh. The BSP’s Jung Bahadur Singh lagged behind Mohammed by 417 votes.

The Congress has now fielded Mohammed’s son, Fateh Bahadur, to exploit the “sympathy factor”. The BJP and the BSP have fielded their old war-horses and the Samajwadi Party a Brahmin, Priyank Hari Tripathi.

The Gauriganj battle is being considered a proxy war between Sonia and Mayavati. It also emphasises the changed role of caste in Uttar Pradesh politics.

Now that the mobilisation of Other Backward Classes by the Mandal lobby and Scheduled Castes by the BSP has peaked, each party has set its sight on the upper castes who account for 30 per cent of the electorate.

With campaigning in full flow, every party is charged up enough to claim imminent victory for itself.

Ranjit Singh Judeo, the Congress Member of Legislative Council supervising the campaign here, is certain the Gandhi magic will work again. “The way Priyanka Gandhi espoused the cause of a Dalit at Punnupur has caught the people’s imagination,” he said.

Judeo dismissed the rumour that Sonia and Priyanka had stayed away from the campaign fearing an adverse result. “The Congress president never canvasses for an Assembly bypoll,” he said.

Sonia, however, is personally monitoring the campaign from her home. To bolster prospects, Satish Sharma, Sultanpur’s Congress MP, will camp in Gauriganj from February 20, Judeo said.

The Congress’ rivals are dismissive of the party’s claims of an imminent victory. “The Punnupur case was a stunt. Wait for Bahenji’s (Mayavati) rally on February 23. You’ll see the elephant (BSP symbol) trampling the lotus (BJP) and crushing the panja (Congress),” Ram Dhan, BSP election in-charge, said.

Mayavati has revealed her determination to win Gauriganj by deputing half-a-dozen of her ministers for the campaign.

While BSP’s Jung Bahadur is banking on the Mayavati factor to bridge the last poll’s vote deficit, the BJP is pinning its hopes on its Thakur candidate’s clout.

As for the Samajwadi camp, it is confident of upsetting all its adversaries’ calculations by weaning away the Thakurs. “They are enraged by Mayavati’s misuse of the anti-terror law against (Independent) MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh and his father,” party district president Muneer Ahmed said.

“The 40,000-odd OBCs and the bulk of the 37,000 Muslims are with us. If the Thakurs join us, our Brahmin candidate is a sure winner,” he said.

Till now, Gauriganj has been the battlefield of the two traditional rivals — the Congress, and the BJP. The Congress has won the seat six times since 1967 and the BJP four times. But now that both are in disarray, Mayavati and Mulayam Singh Yadav are raring to poach on Gauriganj.

The residents of Gauriganj, however, are a wary lot. Once a prosperous town in the formerly princely state of Amethi, Gauriganj’s “better days” during the Congress reign are a fading memory for the residents.

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