But going into polling on May 6, it is clear that this seat, once represented by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, still bears the large shadow cast by him.
The Congress candidate is self-styled spiritual guru Pramod Krishnam. He was a surprise choice given that in 2014, fielded by the party from Sambhal Lok Sabha seat, he had won only 1.52% of the votes.
Last week, among those trying to invoke Vajpayee’s legacy was Krishnam, who promised to build a grand statue of Vajpayee in Lucknow on the lines of the Statue of Unity for Sardar Patel in Gujarat.
During the 2014 election campaign, Rajnath Singh, who served as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh between October 2000 and March 2002, had claimed that Vajpayee had gifted him an angvastram (stole) when he filed his nomination. Campaigning for his Congress rival Rita Bahuguna Joshi was Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla. However, Rajnath had handsomely defeated Joshi, winning by over 2.72 lakh votes. In 2016, Joshi quit the Congress to join the BJP.
With its sizeable Muslim population — around 13% of the residents of the city are Muslim — the community is witnessing effort by all parties to woo it. Among them even Rajnath Singh.
On Tuesday, the Union minister met with Muslim clerics, including Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali. Rasheed, however, told The Indian Express that the meeting was “non-political and there was no discussion about the elections”.
Earlier this week, gathbandhan candidate Poonam Sinha held public meetings in Aminabad, an area with a large Muslim population. An SP leader told The Indian Express that the party “is hoping that the entire Muslim population would vote for the SP-BSP alliance and is working hard to consolidate the votes”.
Sinha said that she has been meeting Muslim leaders and will continue to hold such meetings in the coming days. “We are meeting Muslim clerics because we feel they are important. We need their blessings,” she said.
Asked how the caste arithmetic would play out following the alliance between the SP and BSP, Sinha said, “The alliance will work in my favour. The BSP’s votes will be transferred to us and we will win Lucknow.” She added, “The euphoria then (in 2014) was different than it is this time. They (the BJP) have wasted the last five years. People want change now.”
Owais Gaffar (42), a shopkeeper in the Muslim-dominated Chowk, is not sure if their votes matter. Saying Rajnath Singh will win irrespective of who they vote for, he added, “They (the BJP) have won the seat for as long as I can remember. He will be supported by some Shias too in Old Lucknow. He is a good, secular leader, unlike some others in his party.”
A sugarcane juice seller in Lucknow’s Gomti Nagar area, Siddhartha (28), who belongs to the Jatav caste (Scheduled Caste) and claims to be a traditional BJP voter, says people in Lucknow have no choice but to vote for the BJP. “Now that Rajnathji is contesting, we have to vote for him. We would have liked to see a strong candidate from the vipaksh (Opposition). But they have fielded kamzor (weak) candidates,” Siddhartha says as people in his shop, who have stopped for a drink, nod.