TO KNOW how the BJP is scrambling to counter the threat of Yadavs and Dalits shifting their votes in favour of the SP-BSP gathbandhan in UP, visit the office of the party’s poll office in Machhlishahr, a reserved constituency in Jaunpur district that votes on May 12.
Here, to assuage fears that the “benefits of reservation will be lost if the BJP returns to power”, the party is busy distributing colourful pamphlets. On one side, are photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi washing the feet of sanitation workers during the Kumbh Mela. On the other, are images of the five locations linked to B R Ambedkar that the Centre had developed as the “Panchteerth”.
On Thursday, Modi will also address a public meeting in Machhlishahr.
Inside the constituency, the reason behind the BJP’s push is evident in Jamalpur village, about 3 km from the Jaunpur highway. Party workers on rival sides agree the village has about 300 voters from the Yadav community and around 350 Dalits, mostly Jatavs. And both stay apart, with pucca houses and cars parked outside separating the Yadavs from the Dalits, most of whom work has farm labourers.
For the Yadavs, a vote for the gathbandhan’s BSP candidate — Tribhuvan Ram, who was the PWD engineer-in-chief when Mayawati was CM — is a vote for the SP. For the Dalits, the choice is clear, fuelled this time by the new fear surrounding quotas.
“If the Modi government continues, we will be deprived of reservation,” says Jeet Bahadur, a farm labourer. Asked to explain the fear, Bahadur has no answer.
Bhanu Prakash, a graduate employed in a heater manufacturing firm in Delhi, says the fear is linked to rumours about jobs. “Apparently, the government has decided that if SC/ST or OBC candidates secure higher ranks in the open category for admission in colleges or for jobs, they will be provided seats in the reserved category only. Earlier, we were free to take admissions or get jobs in open category seats on merit and another beneficiary could get the reserved seat,” he says.
Speaking to The Indian Express, senior BJP leader and UP Minister Shrikant Sharma dismisses such fears as “rumours spread by the anti-development lobby to mislead people”. “The Narendra Modi government has set a unique example of equality by giving reservation to the economically backward in the general category without cutting the share of others. This theory of ending reservation that is being spread is a conspiracy against the government,” he says.
On the Yadav side in Jamalpur, Gagandeep Yadav, a farmer, says: “There were conflicts in the past when SP and BSP contested separately. Now that they are together, there is no conflict.”
His neighbour Ganga Deen Yadav says he is yet to make up his mind. “This road was developed when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister. But this time, the Congress is not in the fray. And Modi has done some good work, such as the Ujjwala LPG scheme and his action against terrorism,” he says.
But again, the issue of reservation crops up. “The manner in which the Modi government has given 10 per cent reservation to economically backward upper castes, the OBCs and SCs will suffer if a similar formula is applied for us in future,” says Ganga Deen.
At Kerakat, about 30 km away, Trilok Bind’s tea stall is a popular meeting ground. “The Modi government should be given another five years to ensure the benefits of development and welfare schemes launched in the last two years,” says Bind.
But he is quickly cut short by a customer. “Stop this canvassing. When reservation will be abolished and your children will not get jobs, I will speak to you about this,” says Bhupesh Pal, a farmer. Again, Pal is unable to explain the fear. “Everyone in the Opposition is saying this,” he says.
It is this sentiment that the BJP is hoping to counter with its campaign. Apart from the pamphlets, the party has given prominent space in publicity material to images of its alliance leaders, including LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, Apna Dal (S) leader Anupriya Patel and Sanjay Nishad of Nishad Party.
It has also dumped its sitting MP Ram Charitra Nishad for B P Saroj who had contested on a BSP ticket last time but lost in the Modi surge that gave the party 71 seats in 2014. Saroj joined the BJP just two months ago.
In neighbouring Ghazipur, where the BSP has fielded Afzal Ansari, the brother of jailed MLA Mukhtar Ansari, a similar sync is visible on the ground — the core voters of BSP and SP appear to be backing the common candidate despite the occasional bickering among local leaders.
With BJP putting up Union Minister Manoj Sinha in Ghazipur, which votes on May 19, Afzal Ansari and members of the BSP’s poll coordination panel visited the local SP office last week. Party sources said that during the meeting, the first of its kind, a senior SP functionary pulled up some of his own party’s local leaders “for not cooperating in the canvassing”.
“Forgetting past differences, we are giving respect to SP workers,” says a BSP leader. “In any nukkad meeting, if 10 persons are given seats on the stage, we ensure that seven or eight are from SP.”