OF THE 27 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh which are going to vote in the last two phases, the Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) — the BJP’s ally in the state government which is contesting the Lok Sabha polls on its own — has fielded candidates in 13. The party claims the support of the Rajbhar community, to which its president Om Prakash Rajbhar belongs, and which accounts for a sizeable chunk of the population in eastern UP.
The BJP, on the other hand, is hoping to consolidate the votes of the non-Yadav OBCs, who make up over 30% of the electorate in the state.
In the 13 seats that the SBSP is contesting on May 12 and May 19, the Rajbhar community accounts for about 18 lakh votes. While the SBSP won four of the eight seats it contested in alliance with the BJP in the 2017 Assembly elections — party chief Om Prakash Rajbhar is a minister in the state government — the community seems split along party lines this time.
“After becoming minister, Om Prakash Rajbhar did nothing for us. He only gave his assurance that he is fighting with the government for our rights and welfare. I will vote for his party in the next Assembly polls. In the Lok Sabha elections, I will vote for the BJP because Narendra Modi should be given another chance,” says Jai Karan Rajbhar, a farmer in Sippah village, in Zahoorabad Assembly segment of Ballia Lok Sabha seat where the SBSP has fielded Vinod Tiwari, a Brahmin.
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Om Prakash Rajbhar is the local MLA, and Sippah is the community’s biggest village with nearly 900 Rajbhar voters.
“Some people in this area may vote for SBSP, because of Om Prakash Rajbhar. But seeing Modi’s action on national security and his welfare schemes, I will vote for the BJP,” says Jagdish Rajbhar, of the same village. His family has got an LPG connection under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
In Chandauli, near Varanasi, Paras Rajbhar, a labourer at the Sakaldiha market, says: “Sab vote yahan BJP ko ja raha hai. Om Prakash to bikau hai.”
But just across the road, in Nagipur village, Rajesh Rajbhar is not happy with the BJP-led government. “Ration has become so expensive under this government. Earlier, we used to get three litres of kerosene. Now, we get only one litre. I voted for Modi in 2014. But this time I have changed my mind,” he says.
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In Lalganj constituency (reserved) in Azamgarh, Ajeet Rajbhar, a sales agent from Palhani village, says he is voting for the BJP. “But I am educated and can see what Modi can do for the country. For others, caste loyalties matter. Most Rajbhars from my village are voting for SBSP or BSP due to the influence of local MLA Sukhdev Rajbhar.”
At Lahua village, a few kilometres away, most of the community members praise Modi. “Modi does not differentiate between castes and is giving Rs 2,000 to farmers,” says Subhash Rajbhar, a farmer.
Avadhu Rajbhar, 70, says Modi has done a lot of work and maintained law and order. His wife says she will vote for Modi, because, thanks to him, she now has a toilet. “If Modi loses, it will be because of Yogi, who has let loose stray cows in our fields. Should we sleep at night or keep guarding our crop,” she says.
Pramod Rajbhar, a farmer from the same village, has a different opinion. “Look, we are traditionally BSP supporters. But because of Om Prakash Rajbhar, we voted for the BJP last time. Now he is fighting separately, so we are going to vote for him,” he says.
Ramsevak Rajbhar, 60, says he would have gone with the BJP if it had given even one seat to the SBSP. “But now votes are going to be split between BSP and SBSP. When everyone is voting on caste loyalties, why shouldn’t I,” he asks.
In Ghosi, where the BJP has fielded Harinarayan Rajbhar, the party seems to have won over the community’s votes. The SBSP has fielded Mahendra Rajbhar. The constituency has over 1 lakh Rajbhar voters.
Nirmala Devi Rajbhar and her son, Vikas, run a tea stall at Bajhauti village, on the outskirts of Mau. “Everyone has got houses and toilets here due to Modi. For the first time, someone has thought about the poorest of the poor,” she says.
Most of the Rajbhar community members in Bajhauti have got government grants for building houses and toilets. It is the same narrative in Pahasa village — the community members have either got government benefits or are hoping to get them if he comes to power again.
There are a few who are still loyal to SBSP. “I don’t understand politics much, but my representative is Om Prakash Rajbhar. Wherever he is, I will vote for him,” says Sanjay Rajbhar at Pahasa Chatti.
In Ghazipur, the SBSP has fielded Ramji Rajbhar. Saihmalpur village in the constituency has nearly 700 Rajbhar voters, but many are upset that Om Prakash Rajbhar did not visit the village after becoming minister.
“This is an election to elect the PM. The SBSP can only cut into votes, its candidate is not going to become the PM. I will prefer to vote for the BJP or Congress,” says Raj Narayan Rajbhar.
He says sitting BJP MP and Union minister Manoj Sinha visited the village a few days ago, and met villagers near the statue of Raja Suheldeo — hailed as the “King” of Rajbhars in eastern UP — at the entrance of the village. The Congress has fielded Ajit Pratap Kushwaha, another OBC.
The SBSP has fielded a total of 39 candidates across the state, including Rajbhar candidates in Varanasi, Ghosi, Ghazipur, Sultanpur and Domariyaganj.