BJP candidate Prem Singh Shakya and other campaigners greeted villagers of Kachpura with “Namo Budhay”, a salutation usually identified with the BSP. “Vote not for the BJP but for Prem Singh Shakya. He is one of you,” district BJP president Shivdutt Bhadauria urged them in the Dalit pocket.
The absence of a BSP candidate has left the upcoming Lok Sabha bypoll intriguingly poised, with the Samajwadi Party and the BJP both looking to tap the BSP’s Dalit vote. The BJP has brought in Dalit MPs Ramshanker Katheria, Rajesh Diwakar and Anjubala; the SP has deputed district board chairman Ashu Diwakar and women’s commission member Suman Diwakar. In 2009, the BSP’s Sanghamitra Maurya had polled 1.42 lakh votes.
At Manbhoj village 10 km away, SP candidate Tej Pratap Singh Yadav, Mulayam’s grand-nephew, addressed party supporters: “Go to BSP strongholds and motivate villagers to vote for us.”
Bhadauria said the Thakurs too are with the BJP, pointing at the support of local Thakur leaders including former MLA Ashok Chauhan. “Now we need only your support to defeat the Saifai parivar,” Bahaduria told the villagers.
The nomination of a Dalit hasn’t, however, been smooth for the BJP. Party workers have set an effigy of Rajnath Singh on fire, just as they had done in April when Rajnath as BJP president had cleared a candidate they saw as weak. BJP workers say the invariably weak competition has been making it easy for Mulayam in his domain.
Shakya is not known for oratory skills; his speeches so far have been limited to appeals for votes. Among those passed over are the candidate in the general elections, S S Chauhan, who had distributed sweets in anticipation of the ticket, and Ashok Chauhan, who had bought a nomination form. “I accept the party’s decision,” he said now.
Then and now
A lot has changed in the four months since the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP is on a high and, with the BSP out, is optimistic of a first in Mainpuri. The SP government has recognised 58 new inter colleges, most owned by party loyalists, taking the total to 361. A road has been constructed and most of the contractors are allegedly SP leaders. Many locals fear an upset might result in punishment such as power cuts.
Law and order remains bad as ever. On Monday, a teacher in Dewas was dragged away by some men before she escaped. The teachers’ association went on a flash strike.
Communal tension, however, is new to Mainpuri. The last two months have seen two inter-religion romances in Aalipur Kheda and a third in Mainpuri city, leading to arson in the city. “These incidents are part of a BJP ploy to polarise voters, but it won’t work” Tej Pratap said.
The constituency of 16 lakh voters includes only 50,000 Muslims; the BJP has nevertheless been highlighting these incidents. Its larger gameplan is Yadavs versus the rest. The constituency has nearly 4.5 lakh Yadav voters, and two of its assembly segments, Jaswant Nagar and Kishni, together gave the SP a lead of over 2.50 lakh in the general elections. BJP leaders tell voters they have the upper hand with the other 11 lakh votes, including 2.25 lakh Shakyas and one lakh Lodhs. Besides, leaders say, the 4.5 lakh Yadavs “will not be able to poll six lakh votes this time” — a reference to alleged booth capturing. The 1.10 lakh Thakurs, however, may not rally entirely behind the BJP.
Setting the stage
For all their optimism, BJP workers are wary. Every schedule they print has the dates wrong. “This is our programme for today but we have printed the dates wrong because, if SP leaders get hold of it, they will reach these villages and spoil our programmes,” said Arjun Chauhan, office-in-charge.
In the SP, there is rivalry among its teams. One group loyal to Ramgopal Yadav reports locally to Mainpuri MLA Rajkumar Yadav while another group is loyal to Shivpal Yadav. The younger workers are loyal to Tej Pratap.