National

As last phase of UP poll nears, leaders leave nothing to chance

Poornima Joshi Varanasi | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on March 05, 2017

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a road show at Varanasi   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Final phase for 40 seats across seven districts on March 8



The BJP has employed its ‘Brahmastra’ – Prime Minister Narendra Modi – in the last three critical days of campaigning to make its victory appear inevitable in a tough, triangular contest.

The PM, the only campaigner who has the ability to swing this hard-fought and inscrutable election in his party’s favour, is camping in Varanasi city which has become the centre of the last phase elections. Forty seats spread across seven districts of Ghazipur, Varanasi, Chandauli, Mirzapur, Bhadohi, Sonbhadra and Jaunpur will go to the polls for the last phase on March 8.

One-upmanship

The PM is meeting some influential intellectuals in the city and will stay overnight to soothe feathers and give the last-minute push to his party’s campaign. On the last day, when the campaigning finally comes to an end for the UP elections, Modi will address a rally in Rohania that falls in the Varanasi parliamentary segment.

But, the other players are not letting it rest either. On Saturday, for instance, the city witnessed a collision of sorts with the rivals Samajwadi Party-Congress holding a massive roadshow to coincide with the PM’s drive through the city. The PM visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple. So did Akhilesh, his wife Dimple Yadav and Rahul Gandhi – dubbed ‘Bhaiyya, Bhabhi and Devar’ because of their joint appearances in the campaign. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, in the meantime, was not far behind – holding a rally here to declare that the PM and Akhilesh-Rahul duo are “fighting for the second and third slot” in UP.

Rahul and Akhilesh are again hovering in the vicinity with the Congress Vice-President holding public rallies on Sunday in Mirzapur, Jaunpur and Sonbhadra while the UP Chief Minister is addressing a public rally in Chandauli.

The election so far has witnessed a three-way contest with all the three players – SP-Congress, BJP and BSP – leaving nothing to chance. While the BJP, led by Modi and party President Amit Shah, has pushed enormous resources with a majority of the members of the Cabinet literally stationed here to create an impression of strength and probability of victory, others too have been equally agile.

Caste equations

The BJP has strenuously worked on a caste arithmetic that seeks to wean away the non-Jatav scheduled castes from the fold of Mayawati-led BSP while also chipping away at the SP’s OBC stronghold by aligning with the non-Yadav OBC parties.

The BJP has an alliance with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party led by Om Prakash Rajbhar, which is contesting eight seats, mostly in the Poorvanchal region. Rajbhars are among the lower OBCs being considered for inclusion in the SC status along with Kashyap, Kewat, Mallah, Nishad, Dheemar, Kumhar, Prajapat etc.

While it was Mulayam Singh Yadav who has been supporting and formally advocating the Rajbhars’ demand for inclusion in the SC category, the community leader Om Prakash Rajbhar, formerly with the BSP, has decided to align with the BJP.

The BJP has also aligned with the Apna Dal that represents the Kurmis, another influential caste in the OBC list to expand its social base.

Battle for Varanasi

The SP, in the meantime, is busy consolidating its Yadav-Muslim support base with the Congress giving it a psychological boost at least in the urban areas. The strength of the alliance is visible in Varanasi where the BJP is being given a run for its money by the Congress which has fielded candidates in all the three city seats, namely Varanasi South, North and Cantonment.

In Varanasi South, for instance, BJP has denied ticket to the sitting MLA and seven-term winner Shyamdeo Roychowdhury and fielded a relatively newcomer, Nilkanth Tiwari. The SP-Congress alliance’s candidate is former MP Rajesh Mishra. Mishra is former president of the Benares Hindu University (BHU) students union and has campaigned vigorously in his constituency. And even the BJP insiders believe that the SP-Congress alliance may not have worked so well anywhere else, but in Varanasi South, the coordination and chemistry is smooth.

In Varanasi North too, it is the Congress which is contesting the BJP which is facing a rebel candidate named Sujit Singh Tikku, former president of the BJP’s Kisan Morcha and an intrepid campaigner from the Rajput community. The BJP has fielded the sitting MLA Ravindra Jaiswal against whom there is strong anti-incumbency feelings and the fight is intense.

In the Varanasi Cantonment seat, the Congress has fielded Anil Shrivastava and is giving a good fight to Saurabh Shrivastava, the son of sitting MLA from the BJP Jyotsana Shrivastava. Besides, the local BJP unit is said to be averse to “dynasty politics.” The Congress candidate is a popular opponent who had put up a good fight in the last elections.

The dark horse

The BSP is holding on to its core vote bank of Jatavs and has made strides in weaning away Muslims from the SP’s fold. For instance, in Azamgarh, a Muslim-Yadav dominated district which polled on March 4, the BSP was the flavour of the day. Mayawati is an intrepid campaigner and her silent vote generally speaks only on the day of the results.

Uttar Pradesh is thus a tough trough, being fought valiantly by all parties. The BJP’s ‘Brahmastra’ notwithstanding, the others are not lacking in lethal armour either.

Published on March 05, 2017
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