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Uttar Pradesh: Voters see a fight, not a wave

The BJP seems to have failed to cash in on Modi’s inauguration of the refurbished Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor and the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya
Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to supporters as he arrives at the  “Booth Vijay Sammelan” in Varanasi on Sunday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to supporters as he arrives at the “Booth Vijay Sammelan” in Varanasi on Sunday.

J.P. Yadav   |   Varanasi, Mau   |   Published 03.03.22, 04:17 AM

Vijay Gupta is dismissive. “Do hazar satrah jaisa lahar nahi hai; cycle kadi takkar de raha hai (There’s no 2017-like wave for the BJP; the Samajwadi Party is putting up a tough fight),” the young man says at his small tea shop.

The tea shop stands at the entrance to a building that houses the CPM party office in Varanasi, and is bang opposite one of the gates of the Kashi Vishwanath temple.


“Khela bhi ho sakta hai (We may have a game),” Vijay adds before getting busy with the pre-Shivaratri surge of customers.

Such comments from a youth belonging to the Baniya (trader) community, considered a BJP vote bank, should alarm the ruling party.

Voices saying “no wave for the BJP” may amount to no more than a murmur in Varanasi city, the parliamentary turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but they turn louder as one travels to Ghazipur, Mau and beyond, touching chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s pocket borough of Gorakhpur. Even Mirzapur and Chandauli, to the east and south of Varanasi, ring with similar sentiments.

“Rahul Prakash (MLA of BJP ally Apna Dal from Chhanbey in Mirzapur) was chased away by villagers,” says a policeman, posted at a rally by Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati on the outskirts of Mirzapur town.

“There is simmering anger against the BJP MLA from Mirzapur town too,” another policeman says.

The BJP had hoped that Modi’s spectacular inauguration of the refurbished Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor in December and the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya would create a Hindutva wave and blunt anti-incumbency. That doesn’t seem to be happening.

The damage the BJP is believed to have suffered in western Uttar Pradesh, primarily because of the farmers’ anger, seems likely to be repeated in eastern Uttar Pradesh where the party faces a tough fight in almost every seat. In several constituencies it had won last time, the dominant popular opinion is that the BJP is likely to lose.

Many speak of the “dikkat” (problems) the BJP is facing even in Varanasi South constituency, under which the Kashi Vishwanath temple falls. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Kishan Dikshit, popular head priest of the Mahamrityunjay temple.

The menace of stray cattle, price rise, joblessness and, above all, anger at the sitting MLAs threaten the prospects of the BJP as the party desperately seeks to create a surge in the final rounds of voting.

The voter coalition of the upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits that the BJP had built since Modi’s rise in national politics appears to be unravelling too.

“Yahan ladai Sapa aur Baspa me hai (Here, the tussle is between the Samajwadis and the BSP),” says Lalbabu Basfor, a non-Jatav Dalit in Madhuban constituency of Mau district, which the BJP had won last time.

Lalbabu says he hasn’t decided which party to support. Pressed, he says: “I may vote for the BSP.”

In Raisa village, Ghosi constituency, Jagram Rajbhar says: “The BJP has humiliated our leader Om Prakash Rajbhar. Most Rajbhars here will vote for the gathbandhan (the Samajwadis’ alliance with smaller parties).”

Dara Singh Chauhan, one of the three OBC ministers who revolted against the Adityanath government, is contesting from Ghosi on a Samajwadi ticket. He belongs to the Nonia Chauhan caste.

Om Prakash Rajbhar, who heads the Suheldev Samaj Party and snapped ties with the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, is contesting from Zahurabad in Ghazipur. His son is giving the BJP a tough time at the Shivpur seat in Varanasi.

Minor OBCs like Rajbhars and Chauhans have large pockets of influence across eastern Uttar Pradesh, and the rebellion by some of their leaders against the BJP has divided the votes of these communities that had backed the ruling party in 2017.

Although the BJP still enjoys support from the majority among the minor OBCs and Dalits, owing primarily to government welfare schemes, there seems a lack of enthusiasm among them. The refrain is “vote bata hua hai (the votes are divided)” – that is, the voting preferences of the minor OBCs vary from constituency to constituency.

“The free rations scheme is good, but stray cattle devour more grains than the government is giving us,” says Ramlal Nishad, a Ghazipur resident who has lost two bighas of mustard crop to stray cows.

“I shall vote for the BJP but Yogi Baba has to do something about the stray cattle. They are destroying everything.”

With the Adityanath government cracking down on trade and transport in cattle, farmers are letting their old cows loose after they stop giving milk. These cattle are destroying crops.

The Samajwadi vote bank --- Yadavs and Muslims -- looks charged up and confident about a “badlav ka hawa (winds of change)”. Party managers believe that the generous additions of minor OBC votes, thanks to the smaller alliance partners, would give them the edge.

The BSP has put up strong Muslim candidates at many seats, raising the BJP’s hopes of a division of minority votes, but the Muslim voters themselves say they are united behind Samajwadi president Akhilesh Yadav.

“In every past election, the Muslim vote would get divided between the Samajwadis, BSP and the Congress. But this time we are all solidly behind Akhilesh,” says Obaidullah Ansari at Indara, Mau.

Even the BJP’s loyal upper caste voters seem listless. Many echo Vijay, the tea seller, in saying “there’s a fight” before adding: “But it’s Adityanath who will form the government”.

“There’s no wave like 2017 but the BJP will retain power,” says young Aryan Mishra at a Mirzapur market. He is disgusted with the price rise and lack of jobs but fears that Samajwadi rule would bring back “gundagardi (hooliganism)”.

Many staunch BJP backers fear their party might well fall just short of the majority mark of 202 in the 403-member Assembly, and hope that the BSP would bail it out.

The BJP’s concern at the lack of enthusiasm among its voters was bared last weekend in Varanasi when Modi fervently appealed to party workers to knock at each door and ensure that each vote is cast.

The unpopularity of several BJP candidates comes up intermittently as one travels across eastern Uttar Pradesh. Voters who have no complaints against Modi or Adityanath say the BJP might lose this or that seat because of anger against the sitting MLA.

“In every district the BJP will lose at least one seat it had won last time, and the state has 75 districts,” says a policeman in Mirzapur, adding his assessment is based on conversations with colleagues across the state.

“The BJP seems in danger,” the policeman adds, his colleagues nodding in agreement.

A BJP leader in Varanasi tells this newspaper that “suraksha aur shanti (security and peace)” would see his party through.

“Yes, there is discontent. However, we are confident that people may abuse us but will ultimately vote for us because they don’t want the gunda raj of the Samajwadis,” he asserts.

A paan seller outside a kachahri (lower court) in Varanasi echoes him: “There are some problems but Modiji will camp here and everything will be fine.”

Constituencies in Varanasi, Mau and Mirzapur vote on March 7.

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