In Phulpur, many backward-caste Patels talk of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of achche din, as well as the stamping out aatankh, the alleged legacy of Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure in Uttar Pradesh. Patels are the dominant community in bypoll-bound Phulpur, making up an estimated 17% of the electorate of 18 lakh.
Both the BJP and the SP have fielded Kurmi Patel candidates in a Lok Sabha seat that elected a Patel leader consistently from 1984 to 1999. What dominates the conversation among many Patel voters, however, is not so much community as a hope that there will be no disturbance to the “vikas link” between Yogi Adityanath’s government in UP and Modi’s at the Centre.
Surendra Patel Kumar, 22, a taxi driver, dismisses any notion that being an OBC means he will necessarily vote for the SP, as also the view that the BJP is a party for the upper castes. “Even if the BJP had fielded a Dalit, we would have voted for the BJP because we are voting for Modiji, not the candidate. Just like last time, when we voted not for Keshav Prasad Maurya but Modiji. He intends to work and we want to give him all-out support,” says Surendra, referring to Deputy CM Maurya, who vacated the Lok Sabha seat after winning an Assembly election last year.
“Toilets are being built and lamp-posts too have come; a hand-pump was set up in our village, all in these four years. We want this to go on,” says Ram Lakhan Patel, a potato farmer in the village of Sarai Gopal, in Soraon block.
He says he will vote for the BJP despite the fact that he has been facing a financial crisis with wholesale potato crop prices plummeting below the cost of production, something that led to protests in parts of the state last year. “We have tried and tested everybody, now we are giving Modiji a chance,” Ram Lakhan says.
Some of his neighbours gave another reason for voting for the BJP: that law and order has improved to a large extent and the alleged criminal activities of residents of neighbouring villages — dominated by Muslims —has been halted. “These criminals are richer because they indulge in all kinds of illegal activities and then they come and order us around, dominate us, all poor farmers. They get all the licences for weapons but we don’t. And when there is a dispute, they buy off the police. They had grown brazen under Akhilesh; in fact they were running the party. Why should we vote for the party that is not ours?” says Sanjay, adding there is security now and no one has bothered them since the BJP government took over.
This combination of promised development and communal differences is what the BJP is banking on while seeking OBC votes. Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh’s speech at a rally Thursday, which Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too addressed, reflected this two-pronged approach.
“Akhilesh Yadav asked if Yogi Adityanath is Hindu; then what is he?… Well, if you call yourself a Hindu then tell us this why do you shoot unarmed kar sevaks. Tell us why, for the five years you were the CM, you did not make a pilgrimage to Ram Lalla… You will have to say why you barred the police from registering FIRs against people of a particular community…,” Singh said.
He explained why members of the BJP were different from Akhilesh, “We sport the tilak, but we do not wear the topi, though we respect those who wear the topi… In the Hindu religion, we respect our fathers. That is why we Hindus cannot be Aurangzeb… Earlier, of one rupee released from Delhi, only 10 paise would reach the poor. But when Modiji came, he got bank accounts opened for the poor so that the entire rupee reaches the poor directly… That is the difference between you and us,” he said.
Yogi then took the stage, and described his government’s efforts at making the 2019 Kumbh congregation at Sangam a grand event, and how his government was working to create jobs and make UP an attractive business centre for industrialists.
Yogi targeted at the BSP-SP alliance, formed to “defeat the BJP”. “You must have seen how panic-stricken they were as soon as our candidate Kaushalendra Singh Patel was named. They so hurriedly stitched an alliance that they are now wondering whether it will save them or make them sink.”