Narendra Modi’s supporters speak with pride when they recall how the BJP candidate from Gonda, Kirtivardhan Singh, bowed at Modi’s rally.
“Even Raja Bhaiya (Kirtivardhan) bowed with folded hands. This leader (Modi) is strong,” says Shivkumar Goswami, who attended the May 2 rally.
Kirtivardhan had won in 1998 and 2004 as a Samajwadi Party candidate, then contested in 2009 as BSP candidate and lost to Beni Prasad Verma. He later joined the SP and then the BJP recently. Yet BJP supporters give him the edge because of a “Modi wave”.
That would give Union Steel Minister Verma a fight on his hands. Verma, who has won five Lok Sabha elections, has other reasons to worry. There are three Muslim candidates in the fray and difficult caste equations to resolve. Locals say what Beni needs is to fall back on a slogan similar to the one used in 2009, “Ek dabao teen girao (press one button and defeat three)”. Beni had upset predictions in 2009 and defeated three Thakur rivals including Kirtivardhan. He had strong Brahmin support then, besides that of Muslims. But the BJP surge appears to have upset that caste equation this time; even Brahmins, traditionally opposed to Thakurs, are tilting towards Kirtivardhan.
“Leave all this, desh ke liye vote dena hai,” says Raghvendra Tripathi, a Modi supporter.
Beni is confident. “Don’t write off a five-term MP. I am going to win. People are with me,” he says, relaxing in his Lucknow house. Supporters say Beni campaigns occasionally in Gonda.
BSP, AAP, and Peace Party candidates Akbar Ahmed Dumpy, Mashooq Ahmed and Masood Alam Khan respectively are likely to share the votes in Muslim-dominated Utraula and Gonda segments. There are two lakh Muslim voters.
Beni’s Muslim supporters show the solar lamp at a mosque. “Similar lights have been installed at every mosque. He has never turned away any Muslim who approached him for work,” says Asim Sami, who works at a call centre. The nearly 1 lakh Kurmis of the constituency also seem inclined towards Beni.
The swing, if it is happening, is among the nearly 2.5 lakh Brahmins. Beni will face his real test in Mankapur, Gaura and Mehnaun assembly segments. He had trailed in 2009 in Mankapur, where Kirtivardhan has an edge, the area being where his former estate stood.
At Gaura, Kirtivardhan’s father Raja Anand Singh is the MLA, giving Kirtivardhan the upper hand. Anand Singh, the state agriculture minister, was sacked by UP CM Akhilesh Yadav for campaigning for his son.