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Beyond The News: SP’s Vijay Yatra ‘Bhaiyya is getting large crowds… Let’s see how many votes he gets’

Akhilesh talks about the price rise, as well as “rising custodial deaths”, “discrimination against minorities” and “farm distress” under the Yogi Adityanath government. He vows increased pension for women and supply of water to all — a perennial poll promise in the semi-arid Bundelkhand.

Written by Asad Rehman | Jhansi |
Updated: December 5, 2021 4:25:19 pm
Akhilesh begins by thanking the people of Bundelkhand for their “love”. The BJP will be reduced to zero in Bundelkhand in the coming polls, he says. (Express Photo/file)

At 9.30 am, a huge crowd, wearing the Samajwadi Party cap, is gathered outside a three-star hotel on Jhansi’s Station Road. Hoping to catch a glimpse of Akhilesh Yadav, they keep breaking into lusty slogans of “Jai, Jai, Jai, Jai Akhilesh”

The SP national president and former chief minister is scheduled to address a press conference before setting off on his ‘Vijay Yatra’. It is the fifth phase of the yatra, as part of which the SP leader is covering the backward region of Bundelkhand, all of whose 19 Assembly seats were won by the BJP in the 2017 polls (the spoils were evenly divided in the election before that).

Akhilesh begins by thanking the people of Bundelkhand for their “love”. The BJP will be reduced to zero in Bundelkhand in the coming polls, he says.

SP youth wing member Rajiv Yadav, who has travelled 45 km here, says: “The BJP will lose because of price rise and unemployment, and the SP will form the government. Log trast hain (People are suffering).”

Akhilesh talks about the price rise, as well as “rising custodial deaths”, “discrimination against minorities” and “farm distress” under the Yogi Adityanath government. He vows increased pension for women and supply of water to all — a perennial poll promise in the semi-arid Bundelkhand.

The yatra will be on a “rath” — essentially a luxury bus with bullet-proof windows, an office space and a pantry, a ramp to take Akihlesh to the roof, from where he can address people without getting off, and a window for him to shake hands with them.

The vehicle is plastered with pictures of SP patriarch and Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav, his uncle Ram Gopal Yadav, jailed SP Rampur MP Azam Khan, and party state president Naresh Uttam Patel. A slogan displayed prominently says: ‘Badon ka haath yuva ke saath (the youth have the blessings of elders)’.

Akhilesh sets off in a cavalcade, to the sound of the SP’s most prominent campaign song, “Janta pukaarti hai Akhilesh chaahiye (people are calling out that they want Akhilesh)”.

The first stop is 1.5 km away, at the Mandi chauraha, around noon, where Akhilesh’s halt causes a traffic jam.

Harshit Vimal (22), a student of B.Sc at Bundelkhand University, who calls himself an SP worker, says “Bhaiyya (as Akhilesh is referred to)” has done a lot for development.

Nishchay Rajput (24), a bystander, stops him, accusing the last SP government led by Akhilesh of “goondagardi”.

As Vimal now raises the issue of “bodies floating in the Ganga” at the height of the Covid second wave, an elderly man wearing the SP cap steps in. “When the results come, we will see who the people are with,” the man says.

Stuck in the jam are Pranjali Soni and Khushi Daksh, headed for classes at Bundelkhand University. Soni (20), who is doing B.Com (Hons), says she is yet to decide who to vote for. However, classmate Daksh (21) is clear that her vote is “for Modi”. “The BJP has ensured national security,” she says.

After speaking to the crowd for about 10 minutes, on prices, his government’s laptop scheme and Covid deaths, Akhilesh moves on, making the next halt near a statue of Rani Lakshmibai.

Dushyant Yadav (23), who is back in Jhansi after post-graduation from JNU in Delhi, speaks proudly about the town’s two heroes — Lakshmibai and the hockey star Dhyanchand. As Akhilesh refers to both, Dushyant says: “Akhilesh’s politics is pro-development. He seems to be the future.”

However, Dushyant adds, the BJP will give him a tough fight. “They will do communal politics too. Seeing the crowd, it seems Akhilesh will do well. But most of the people here are party supporters.”

By 1.30 pm, Akhilesh’s bus is in Badagaon. Supporters here wield the flags of Mahaan Dal, led by Keshav Dev Maurya, who commands support of the backward Maurya and Khushwaha community.

The Mahaan Dal is one of the many small parties the SP has aligned with – in a conscious decision to stay away from big partners. The SP alliance with the Congress is believed to have cost it in the 2017 Assembly polls, while in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP is said to have dragged it down.

The SP allies include the Rastriya Lok Dal (RLD) led by Jayant Chaudhury, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of Om Prakash Rajbhar and the Janwadi Party (Socialist) of Sanjay Chauhan. The RLD is strong in western UP, the region where the farmers’ agitation has been concentrated in the state; Rajbhar, a former BJP ally, is strong in eastern UP; while Chauhan and Maurya are expected to get the SP the non-Yadav OBC vote.

Manoj Parihar (45), a mason who says his village head sent him to Badagon, says the Kushwaha plus Yadav vote would sound the death knell for the BJP. “I voted for the BJP in 2017 because they promised to make Keshav Prasad Maurya, who is a pichda (backward), the CM. Then, they made a Thakur (Adityanath) the CM and made Maurya his deputy. Which state has two deputy CMs (Dinesh Chandra Sharma is the second deputy CM)?” he asks, as people around him cheer.

Keshav Prasad has lately made some noises about the next CM choice not being decided in the BJP. However, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have publicly backed Adityanath.

Akhilesh’s bus is already off, and the next halt is at Chiragon, around 3 pm. Here, he talks about the death of protesting farmers at Lakhimpuri Kheri, and the “hardships” faced by migrant workers during Covid.

Speaking to The Sunday Express onboard the bus later, Akhilesh accuses the Adityanath government of “lies and deceit”. “They have manipulated all facts and figures,” he says. The SP leader also claims that the BJP will ensure that work on the Ram temple remains unfinished. “They will contest the next two-three elections on that issue.”

The final halt, Moth, sees the biggest crowd yet for the day. Loudspeakers blare songs taking off from the Trinamool Congress’s slogan for the West Bengal elections — “Khela hobe, khadedha hobe. Ab ke chunaav mein humarein voton ka rela hobe… UP mein khushiyon ka mela hobe (The game is on, change will happen. This time, in the elections, there will be a surge for the SP, a festival of happiness).” TMC chief Mamata Banerjee has declared support for the SP.

A local corporator, Naseeruddin Khan (52), says people from at least 200 villages are at the rally. “Akhilesh supports the Muslims. During the CAA-NRC protests, it was he who gave compensation to those who died in police action.”

Most of the vehicles parked outside the rally venue have SP flags, indicating they have been assembled by the party.

Around 4.30 pm, Akhilesh wraps up his speech, asking people “to increase the speed of the SP’s cycle”, and leaves to board a helicopter for Lucknow.

Some supporters linger around to chat. “Bheed toh aa rahi hai. Ab dekhna hai vote kitne milenge bhaiyya ko (The crowds are coming, but let’s see how many votes Akhilesh gets),” says Bahadur Yadav (48) from Hamirpur district.

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