For decades, the neighbouring towns of Saifai and Mainpuri have served as the twin nerve centres from which Mulayam Singh Yadav ran his fiefdom. If Saifai was the cultural capital of the Yadav family, Mainpuri was its political twin. Now, with the passing away of the Samajwadi Party founder and the state’s former CM, the SP is faced with a Mainpuri sized hole, which is being greedily eyed by the state’s dominant political party, the BJP.
The constituency is dominated by Yadav voters, who make up 4.5 lakh of the 17 lakh electorate. Shakyas are around 3.5 lakh, Dalits around 2.5 lakh and Lodh Rajputs around 1.25 lakh. There are over 60,000 Muslims too.
Ground reports suggest that in the absence of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — which has decided to stay away from the bypoll on December 5, but hasn’t issued any appeal for any candidate either — the outcome of the electoral battle will depend on non-Yadav and non-Shakya voters, ie, the Dalits. And for the first time in the history of Mainpuri, the SP is facing a neck-and-neck challenge from the BJP.
Both parties have deployed their Dalit leaders to reach out to the community. At the same time, they are approaching their traditional voters — Yadavs for the SP, Shakyas for the BJP — to consolidate their base voters. Both parties are also invoking Mulayam in their campaigns.
Mulayam’s son and current SP president Akhilesh Yadav and wife Dimple — the SP candidate for the bypoll — are trying hard to reach every village in the short span of time, along with family members.
As a feelgood factor over and above the sympathy wave for Mulayam, the SP is highlighting the reunification of the Yadav family, saying, “Chacha bhatija ek ho gaye hain (Uncle and nephew are united again),” referring to Akhilesh burying the hatchet with his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav.
Akhilesh is the MLA from Karhal and Shivpal from the Jaswantnagar Assembly segments of Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat. The SP takes a big lead of votes from these two segments, 60-70 per cent of whose population is Yadav. “We’re sure 90 per cent Yadavs will go with SP. Other castes including Dalits will also vote for us because we respect them,” said Mukul Yadav, SP MLC. His father Sobaran Singh Yadav is a former MLA from Karhal.
The BJP is looking at Shakya, upper castes and Dalit voters. The SP is also trying to woo Dalits, and had its bypoll office in Karhal inaugurated by Rajkumari Rawal, a Dalit member. A whisper campaign is also claiming that SP could field Rajkumari in the forthcoming Nagar Panchayat elections. Dimple and Akhilesh are touring Dalit dominated villages, garlanding statues of Ambedkar.
The BJP has fielded Raghuraj Singh Shakya, a former SP MP. It needs to be kept in mind that the BJP had lost the 2019 election even after it had fielded Prem Singh Shakya against Mulayam.
“The situation was different then. Mulayam helped every caste and community. Also, he had announced that 2019 would be his last election, and had BSP support that time. Even then, his victory margin was a mere 94,000 votes,” said Mahendra Pal Shakya, a farmer in Karhal. He added, “As BSP votes are expected to shift to BJP, the saffron party appears to be giving a neck-to-neck fight to the SP for the first time.”
Arjun Shakya, a pumpkin farmer in Jatpura village in Kishani (SC reserved) Assembly segment, disagrees. “It is true that Shakyas vote on caste. But I am also not happy with the BJP government as it did not give due benefit of reservation to OBCs in government jobs. It is also favouring upper castes. Majority of Shakyas will vote BJP, but some like me will use this bypoll to teach them a lesson,” said Arjun, who also offers tuitions to government job aspirants.
Jatpura village has 2,900 votes. Around 350 of them are Shakya.
There are over 300 votes of Jatav Dalits, and a few odd families of non-Jatav Dalits. Ramkunj Katheria (non-Jatav), a tailor in the village is clear in his mind that he will vote BJP because he got a house under PM Awas Yojana, and also a toilet.
Yogesh Singh Rana and Avnish Singh, two Jatav Dalits in the same village, had different views. Avnish said in the absence of BSP, he will vote for BJP on the law and order issue. Avnish, who plays DJ music in wedding ceremonies for a living, said, “During SP rule, my employees and I were beaten by Yadavs, who forced me to play loud music till late into the night. This hooliganism ended with the BJP, and I feel safe now.” Yogesh agreed on law and order, but held two grudges — inflation, and that the BJP has not come to his village to appeal for votes, because it’s dominated by Muslims.
On the issue of unemployment and inflation, Akash Bhadauriya, a Thakur, said, “Except for stray cattle, what else is the problem here? The BJP government has improved law and order and that is most important safety of common man.” In Kushmara town area in Kishani, Shivpal Singh Chauhan and Shyam Singh — both Thakurs — said they will vote to BJP because they are “against Yadavs”.
The SP is getting support from all castes in Saifai and adjoining villages. Vijay Singh, a Dalit in Ujhiyani village in Saifai block said he voted for the SP even when BSP contested in 2014 Lok Sabha and 2022 assembly elections. “For non-Yadavs, the situation here is like a tongue surrounded by 32 teeth. Also, only Yadavs are powerful enough to help us when we are in trouble,” he said.
While the SP is accusing BJP of misusing power and threatening voters, Laxmikant Tiwari, a bank executive in Ujhiyani village, said, “If a free and fair election were to be held, the BJP’s vote share will increase in both Jaswantnagar and Karhal. Also, I will be able to caste vote as per my choice. Twice in the past, my vote was cast by somebody else, in favour of the SP.”
Incidentally, Tiwari was among the Brahmins who were ritually honoured by Akhilesh and Dimple after Mulayam’s death. Each Brahmins in the ritual was given pick-and-drop facility along with gifts including clothes, utensils and cash of Rs 5,100.