A new-age radical has captivated voters in this nondescript constituency so much so that established parties are beginning to worry. In western UP’s Nagina Lok Sabha seat, the excitement is not about Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BSP supremo Mayawati and INDIA bloc stars Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav. All people here talk about is Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ who has burst onto the scene with his promise of a new kind of politics and social justice.

His Azad Samaj Party (ASP, Kanshi Ram) has been built as a counter to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with Ravan as its youthful icon. With a substantial number – over 3.5 lakh Dalit voters – this reserved constituency was won by the BSP in the 2019 elections. But this time around, the situation is entirely fluid with not just the BSP but even the SP-Congress combine and the BJP fearing a loss of its support base to Ravan. The reason – his radical appeal for social transformation and “rule of the poor”.

He holds meetings in the villages and collects the names of the people with mud houses, promising to get concrete dwellings built in a year. “We will take it to the administration. This government shouldn’t run only for the rich,” he tells the gathering.

At the ASP office in Nagina, youth sporting curved moustaches in the fashion of their leader, flock by the hundreds while the elderly wait patiently for their turn to be heard by the office in-charge. The in-charge is a young, businesslike office-bearer of Ravan’s outfit, Bhim Army, Dr Rohit Raj Gautam.

Common man’s fight

“You see this crowd here? These are people who have come to donate money. Our party has no money or muscle power. Common people are fighting this election for us. They give us money, their support. Only the other day, the Valmikis (a Dalit community) organised a function and collected Rs 11 lakh for us. We are sweeping this election,” Gautam says.

In the Nagina bazaar, the BJP supporters whisper their apprehension about Ravan. “He is luring the voters. He is promising all sorts of things,” says Ram Kumar Saini. In a corner, Guddu who is a Jatav, and a supporter of the BSP for the last 30 years, runs a tailoring shop with his two sons. Guddu chats with his two clients, who are vociferous BJP supporters. He nods in agreement every time they assert that the BJP is winning. But the moment the BJP supporters depart, he turns and whispers: “We will vote for ketli (kettle, Ravan’s election symbol). Our entire family will vote for him. The community will vote for him.”

In comes Rishi Pal Singh, another Ravan supporter. “You go to the villages – Budhwala, Bhawanipur, Sahlapur – they are all voting for Ravan,” he says.

Muslims, who constitute a large chunk (about 7 lakh) of the total 16.38 lakh voters in Nagina, too are drifting towards Ravan. “Ketli is sweeping,” says Adil Sheikh.

In the BJP’s quarters, quiet calculations are under way. “You see, we will get about 4 lakh votes. Our calculation is that the Dalit and the Muslim vote will get divided and we will win. But if Ravan’s chemistry works, then he will sweep this election with over 1 lakh votes,” a BJP insider says.

The BSP’s Girish Chandra had won this constituency in 2019. This time, the contest is between the BJP and Chandrashekhar Azad with the SP-Congress combine and the BSP trailing behind.