What started as smooth-sailing for the BJP has turned out to be a keen contest in the eight seats in Western Uttar Pradesh where polling will take place on Friday.

A number of unforeseen factors have come into play in the region. A Rajput agitation is disturbing the BJP’s calculations in the seats where the party had expected to sweep in alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The Congress’s goodwill among the Muslims has consolidated the community, which had been upset with SP, around the INDIA bloc. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is playing the spoiler for both the BJP as well as the INDIA bloc. Significantly, the Rajputs’ anger is directed at the BJP’s central leadership who they believe is short-changing the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur icon himself. ‘Modi hatao, Yogi bachao (remove Modi, save Yogi)’ is their slogan.

Rajput Anger

The BJP had swept this region in the 2014 elections but an alliance between SP and BSP in 2019 changed the equation and the BJP ended up losing five of the eight seats to the opposition alliance. This time, the BJP was banking on a division of votes between SP and BSP and its own alliance with the local Jat-dominated RLD to swing the pendulum back to the 2014 scenario but the ground reality has shifted somewhat.

The most exciting contest is in Muzaffarnagar and Kairana seats where infighting in the BJP and a foreign-educated young Muslim candidate, Iqra Hasan of the INDIA bloc in Kairana, has changed the equations. Adding to the BJP’s woes is a burst of protests and community gatherings by the local Rajputs.

The Rajputs believe they have been short-changed by the BJP’s central leadership who they believe is “gunning for Yogi Adityanath”. Other factors such as Union Minister Purushottam Rupala’s comments that the Rajputs compromised with the British and denial of a ticket to General VK Singh from neighbouring Ghaziabad, have only fuelled the anger. The community has taken to organising large gatherings, including one in Kheda Chobisi village in Sardhana near Meerut on April 16 where the community vowed to work against the BJP in Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar and Kairana. Before that, a similar gathering was organised in Nanota village, Saharanpur district on April 7.

Is baar BJP pashchim se saaf aur UP mein half (The BJP will be wiped out in western UP and be reduced to half its seats). They have taken us for fools. Do they not think we understand that there is a conspiracy to get Yogi Adityanath out after this election? And what about the Agniveer scheme and the fact that not a single young man from these parts was selected,” Ajay Som, President of the Rajput Utthan Sabha told businessline.

Mayawati Factor

While the Rajputs have taken to doing a door to door campaign in favour of the INDIA bloc candidate, Harender Mallik from Muzaffarnagar, against the sitting MP and Minister of State Sajiv Balyan, adding an interesting twist to this tale is the BSP. The BSP has fielded Dara Singh Prajapati from a community which has been supporting the BJP. Prajapati’s candidature is cutting into the BJP’s vote, turning this into a very keen contest. Even in the neighbouring Bijnor Lok Sabha seat, Mayawati has fielded a Jat to disturb the BJP-RLD alliance. This seat is being contested by the Jat-dominated RLD but the presence pf the BSP’s Brijender Chaudhary may cut into the saffron alliance’s support base.

However, the BSP is also damaging the INDIA bloc in seats like Moradabad where it has fielded a Muslim, and in Saharanpur where the Congress’s Imran Masood is contesting. The Saharanpur seat had been won by the BSP in 2019 when it was in alliance with the SP. This time, the Congress hopes for a breakthrough in this seat while the BSP is playing the spoiler by fielding a strong candidate like Majid Ali.

In the Rampur Lok Sabha seat too, the BSP has fielded a Muslim. Rampur had been won by Azam Khan in 2019 but he had to resign after his conviction. The SP has fielded the relatively unknown Mohidullah Nadvi from Rampur who is facing opposition by Azam Khan’s supporters. BSP’s presence only damaged the SP and helps the BJP here.  

In Nagina Lok Sabha seat, where the debutant Chandrshekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ and his new Azad Samaj Party (ASP) is the favourite, the BSP has fielded Surender Pal Singh and SP’s candidate is Manoj Kumar. BSP leader and Mayawati’s heir apparent Akash Anand has been campaigning here, warning Dalits against a “split” in their vote that will ultimately help the BJP. The BSP had won this seat in the 2019 elections.

The region is poised for an exciting contest on Friday.