In Rohilkhand region’s two prominent seats, Gangwar votes have become crucial for Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Santosh Gangwar in Bareilly while in adjoining Badaun, Muslim votes are crucial for Samajwadi Party candidate Dharmendra Yadav. Santosh’s main opponent, SP’s Bhagwat Sharan, is also a Gangwar, whereas in Badaun, Muslims have an option in Congress’s Salim Sherwani.
Polling on both these seats is on April 23.
Of the total 17.76 lakh voters in Bareilly constituency, more than 5 lakh are Muslims. The second most dominant community is Gangwar (Kurmi, an OBC) — around 4 lakh voters. There are also around 1 lakh Vaishya voters, 3 lakh Scheduled Castes, 1 lakh Lodh farmers and nearly 1 lakh Maurya-Shakya, 70,000 Yadavs and 25,000 Jats.
Santosh has been representing Bareilly for the BJP since 1989, except in 2009-14. In 2009, Congress’s Praveen Singh Aron defeated Santosh. Aron is now contesting again on a Congress ticket, but Santosh’s main opponent is SP’s Bhagwat Sharan Gangwar, a candidate of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance. A five-time MP from Nawabganj Assembly segment under this Lok Sabha seat, Sharan is also a relative of Santosh.
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With a build-up of Muslim votes apparently in favour of Sharan, Bareilly seems to be headed for a straight contest between the two Gangwars. Dr G S Siddiqe of the Muslim-dominant village of Jauharpur on Bareilly-Rampur road said, “All Muslim votes in this village are expected to go with the gathbandhan candidate.” Mohammed Kasim, a bakery shop owner in the village, said, “If there was no SP-BSP joint candidate, we could have voted for Aron. But we will go with the alliance this time.”
At a tea stall in Sailani locality of Bareilly city, first-time voter Wasim Khan told The Indian Express, “We will go with the gathbandhan candidate.” Anjum Raza, owner of Diamond Digital Studio in Sailani, said, “The country needs a strong opposition. We have decided to vote for the gathbandhan.”
With both these contestants being from the same community, there is a possibility of division of votes of Gangwars. Santosh said, “My community has realised its mistake of 2009, when I lost to Congress’s Aron. This time they will not make that mistake.” Sharan, on the other hand, said, “I have no worries about Muslims, SCs, Yadavs and Jats. I will get more than 50 per cent of Gangwar votes and that will ensure my victory.”
While Bareilly is dominated by Gangwars, Badaun seat is dominated by Yadavs — accounting for nearly 4 lakh votes — followed by Muslims with 3.5 lakh. Then, there are around 2.7 lakh Maurya-Shakya, 2 lakh SC, 1.25 lakh Thakurs, 1.2 lakh Vaishya, 1 lakh Brahmins and 60,000 Lodh among the 18.81 lakh total voters in the constituency.
Dharmendra Yadav, the SP candidate, is a cousin of party chief Akhilesh Yadav. He has been busy in his constituency, raising issues that matter to his support base. He was at the forefront of protests against the 13-point reservation roster in universities and ensured a road network and government medical college in the district. A Yadav-Muslim combine was behind his victory here since 2009.
Akhilesh and BSP chief Mayawati addressed a rally on April 13 in Mujaria Chowki in the district, the same day BJP chief Amit Shah addressed one in Badaun city in favour of BJP candidate Sanghmitra Maurya. Sanghmitra is daughter of Swami Prasad Maurya, state minister and former BSP leader who joined BJP before 2017 Assembly polls. Shah termed Dharmendra “gundon ka palan karne wala (patron of goons)”. Sanghmitra is a Maurya-Shakya, an OBC.
Ajit Singh Yadav, BJP MLA from Gunnaur Assembly segment of the area, said, “A sizable number of Yadav votes will go in favour of BJP in this election.” Dharmendra said, “I am depending on my work in this area, not the arithmetic of votes, though caste arithmetic is also in my favour.”
Mohammed Asif, who has been with Congress’s Saleem Sherwani since 1984 and joined SP, said, “With less than 25 per cent Muslim votes, Sherwani will be a distant third. It will be a straight fight between the BJP and gathbandhan candidates.”
Maurya told The Indian Express, “For 10 years, people of Badaun have been victims of anarchy. We are getting votes from every section of society and Sanghmitra will win.”