Bringing the curtains down on one of the most acrimonious and bitterly contested elections in Uttar Pradesh, campaigning for the seventh and last phase of the Assembly elections in the state drew to a close Monday with star leaders going all out one final time to woo voters before the dust settled.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spent the last three days in his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi to lead the BJP charge in the seven eastern districts that will vote Wednesday, called on the head of the Garhwa Ghat ashram, which has a sizeable following among OBCs and Yadavs, and fed puris and bananas to the cows at the ashram.
Wrapping up the campaign with a rally in Rohania, Modi attacked rival parties, telling people not to “waste” their votes on the SP and BSP. He blamed these parties for the plight of Uttar Pradesh and promised to waive farmer loans — he said he had “experienced poverty” and “wants to improve the lot of the poor” — and bring back professionalism in the police if the BJP is voted to power in the state.
He made special mention of Apna Dal and Bharatiya Samaj Party which are contesting 20 of the 403 seats in alliance with the BJP. The Apna Dal has a following among the Kurmis while the Bharatiya Samaj Party has been floated by Om Prakash Rajbhar and others who broke away from the BSP.
SP leader and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who addressed a rally in Jaunpur, targeted Modi, saying his “Acche Din film has flopped”.
A day after the Prime Minister called him and Akhilesh “ghalua” (one who gets everything in inheritance without making any effort), Rahul used a Hindi proverb to take a swipe. He said Modi’s barbs were like “khisiyani billi khamba nochay”, reflecting his frustration and desperation. “Modiji is afraid. For the last three days, he has been camping in Varanasi,” he alleged.
Akhilesh too mocked Modi when he said “he is organising one roadshow after another” and “it seems he will now do only roadshows here and not visit other countries”. Referring to the Prime Minister’s remarks about supply of electricity in the state, Akhilesh attacked him for giving it a Hindu-Muslim twist.
“Our Prime Minister is unique… He has made power Hindu and Muslim, alleging that our government used to supply more power during Ramzan than in Diwali and Holi. We have given data which proves we did not discriminate,” he said.
Akhilesh and Rahul were to hold a joint press conference in Varanasi but it was cancelled.
In Lucknow, BSP chief Mayawati attacked both the BJP and the SP-Congress alliance. Describing Modi and BJP president Amit Shah as “guru and chela”, she alleged that they held roadshows in Varanasi and visited temples in the cities of Purvanchal to give “a communal and religious colour to the elections”.
Confident that her party was all set to form the government, Mayawati told reporters: “The BJP and the SP-Congress alliance are fighting for the second and third spots… for this, the PM and Amit Shah have been doing drama to divert the attention of people… going to temples and other places… people are looking at what the Prime Minister is doing… his own ministers and MPs are criticising him.”
Unlike 2007 and 2012 when the BSP and SP won the elections respectively with each getting around 30 per cent votes, this time the contest is triangular because the SP and Congress are in an alliance. In the 2007 Assembly polls, the BSP got 30.40 per cent votes and formed the government. In 2012, the SP got the largest share (29.15 per cent), followed by the BSP (25.91 per cent). The BJP got 15 per cent, and the Congress around 11.5 per cent.
The BJP, however, recorded a sharp growth in 2014, getting around 42 per cent of the total votes in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections. And that’s what the BJP is hoping to build on. Party leaders claim they have made significant inroads into the extremely backward class segments.
The division of Muslim votes between the SP-Cong and the BSP is another factor that weighs heavily on the minds of these parties. In the Varanasi region though, the SP-Congress alliance thinks that this vote will not split and come their way.
At the bazar in Garhwa Ghat, two kilometres from the ashram that Modi visited Monday, Ramashish Yadav stood in the crowd that lined the road to watch the Prime Minister go past. “The SP and BJP are in a neck-and-neck fight here,” he said.