Congress’ surprise challenge in Fatehpur Sikri, the city of Saint Salim Chishti

Poornima Joshi Fatehpur Sikri | Updated on April 14, 2019

Congress’ UP president and candidate from Fatehpur Sikri Lok Sabha constituency Raj Babbar during his election campaign at village Choto Iktara in Agra Rural Assembly segment   -  Rajeev Bhatt

In Fatehpur Sikri, it is not the Grand Alliance but Cong’s Raj Babbar who is fighting the BJP

Despite the occasional glimpse of Gandhi glamour, western Uttar Pradesh is a barren landscape for the Congress, barring this short-lived capital of the Mughal empire where the principal Opposition party’s State unit president Raj Babbar has emerged as a surprise star in the ongoing election campaign.

Unlike the other seven seats in western Uttar Pradesh, which are going to polls in the second phase of the election, where the contest is between the Mahagathbandhan, the Grand Alliance, of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the fight in this charming fortified city built by Emperor Akbar is directly between the Congress and the BJP. The Mahagathbandhan suffers here with a lack of credibility owing to the criminal antecedents of its candidate Shreebhagwan Sharma alias Guddu Pandit.

Pandit was booked this weekend for violation of the Model Code of Conduct for the fourth time in less than two weeks of campaigning. In a video that has gone viral in the last 24 hours, Pandit is seen abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath . In his affidavit before the Election Commission, the Mahagathbandhan candidate, who was sacked from the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2016, has cited as many as seven criminal cases, including instances of causing grievous hurt to extort property.

Also read: ‘Modi frenzy has waned; caste polarisation against BJP’

Such conduct in a seat dominated by Brahmins and Thakurs, who constitute a sizeable chunk of over 6 lakh voters in the entire electorate of about 17 lakh, considerably dims the Mahagathbandhan‘s chances in this seat.

The BJP seems comfortably placed because of the large number of upper caste votes as well as other communities such as Kushwahas, who are about 1 lakh; Baghel, whose number stands around 50,000; Mullahs, who are about 1.50 lakh; and 2.25 lakh Jats who had overwhelmingly supported the BJP in the 2014 elections.

Ticket allocation

The problem, however, is that the BJP has denied ticket to its sitting MP Babulal Chaudhary, who had defeated the BSP’s Brahmin face Seema Updhayay in the 2014 elections by a margin of over 2 lakh votes.

Babulal Chaudhary is a Jat and a farmer leader who has taken on the mantle of his mentor, former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, but does not get along with his son, the present chief of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) Ajit Singh.

So successful was Babulal Chaudhary in weaning the Jats away from the RLD’s fold that Ajit Singh’s candidate and former Samajwadi Party (SP) general secretary Amar Singh lost his deposit in this seat in 2014.

But the BJP has sidelined Chaudhary and fielded another Jat leader, Rajkumar Chahar. Chaudhary is naturally predicting a loss for his party.

“Many upper caste voters are supporting Raj Babbar this time. Some of the votes will go to Guddu Pandit also which is a loss for the BJP. The Jatav voter does not favour Guddu Pandit and Raj Babbar has a good image among Muslims also. The other factor is that the potato farmers are unhappy. The price of the crop has been falling consistently,” Babulal Chaudhary told BusinessLine.

Potato prices

Although, falling potato prices has not become an issue as big as sugarcane dues was in the “ganna belt (sugarcane belt)” of UP, it is still a difficult question for the BJP to encounter.

However, the BJP’s XFactor –— Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unblemished image and its organisational muscle — presents a formidable challenge. The only distinction is that it is not the Grand Alliance but the Congress’ most genial face — Raj Babbar — who is fighting the BJP in the city of Sufi saint Salim Chishti.

Published on April 14, 2019

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