Machlishahar (Uttar Pradesh), April 23: Guess what Kesri Nath Tripathi’s campaign plank in his first Lok Sabha election is' Development' No. The Ayodhya temple' No, no. Atal Bihari Vajpayee' No, no, no. It is Murli Manohar Joshi’s decision to slash fees in the IIMs.
There is more than an element of irony embedded in the message that the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Speaker seeks to convey in this predominantly rural constituency, 30 km from his hometown of Allahabad.
It is an open secret that Tripathi’s equation with Joshi has never been good. Even his campaign supervisor Kripa Shankar Srivastava can barely suppress a smile when this is mentioned.
Joshi and Tripathi preside over two big BJP factions in Allahabad. Come elections and they give each other sleepless nights.
This time, the human resource development minister effected a coup of sorts when he managed to push Tripathi’s name for Machlishahar, reportedly against the Speaker’s wishes.
He got him out of the way in Allahabad and plunged him into the rough and tumble of a typical rural Uttar Pradesh constituency.
In Machlishahar, caste is all that matters and Tripathi’s urbane manner, which clicked with academics and lawyers on his home turf, has made no impact. “This is Hindustan, not Englistan. We cannot understand what Tripathi is trying to say. His Hindustani accent sounds strange and the content of his speeches is incomprehensible,” says Jawahar Maurya, a farmer of Mirza Nikhamuddinpur.
Tripathi is locked in a tight contest with the sitting MP of the Samajwadi Party, Chandranath Singh, and Umakant Yadav of the Bahujan Samaj Party. The carrot he is holding out is that if elected, he will certainly be made a “senior” cabinet minister and that means a VVIP status for Machlishahar.
Like the IIM fee slash, this lollipop has found no takers. “VVIP constituency' Do you know that Machlishahar was once part of Phulpur and our MP was none other than Pandit Nehru' Sripat Mishra (a former chief minister) was elected from here. But if they did nothing, what magic will Tripathi work'” asks Abhay Raj, a member of the block development committee of Khajurahat Srinethganj.
Neither is Tripathi’s long and somewhat controversial innings as Speaker or his reputation as a lawyer making a dent.
If anything, the questionable manner in which he recognised a “split” in the BSP legislature party in 1998 and helped pave the way for a BJP government was resented by the Dalits.
The 23 per cent Dalits account for the largest voting segment, which makes the BSP’s Umakant Yadav a formidable contender. He is facing trial under the National Security Act after he allegedly murdered a village pradhan.
He says the BSP’s sole campaign point and his target is the Samajwadi. “The SP used to be known as a party of the backward and the poor and Mulayam Singh Yadav openly spoke out against capitalism and social inequity. But Amar Singh has converted the SP into a party of oppressors and capitalists.”
Yadav, still behind bars, points out that his own “unfair” arrest on March 15 was after Amar Singh addressed a meeting in the region with the Samajwadi championing the “cause” of terror law detainee Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya.
“This is because I am a Yadav and the present government is run according to Amar Singh’s diktat. Mulayam Singh does not matter at all,” he says from jail.