A YEAR after it lost the bypolls to Phulpur Lok Sabha seat — in the first inkling that a Samajwadi Party-BSP alliance could work in Uttar Pradesh — the contest looks tough for the BJP, again due to caste alignment.
While the BJP has been trying to pitch nationalism and action against terror, this doesn’t seem to be making a dent in the core bases of either the SP (Yadavs) or the BSP (Jatav Dalits). The gathbandhan candidate, the SP’s Pandhari Yadav, will also benefit from votes of Phulpur’s substantial Muslim population, while the Congress’s Pankaj Patel, a Kurmi, is expected to cut into the non-Yadav OBC votes the BJP is eyeing. The BJP’s candidate is a Kurmi too, Keshari Devi Patel.
The party doesn’t seem to be enjoying any fringe benefits from the Ardh Kumbh organised by the state BJP government in January this year either. The Sangam area, where the Mela was held, falls in Phulpur.
The seat, which votes on May 12, and was once represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, has around 3 lakh Patels, 1 lakh Jatav Dalits, around 1.5 lakh non-Jatavs, around 2 lakh Yadavs and Brahmins each, plus two lakh Muslims.
In the March 2018 by-election, the SP’s Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel had won with 3.42 lakh votes, while the BJP’s Kaushlendra Singh Patel had got 2.83 lakh votes. Don-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed (currently in jail on murder charge), who had contested as an Independent, stood third with 48,094 votes, with the Congress getting only 19,353 votes.
The by-election was held after the BJP’s Keshav Prasad Maurya, named UP Deputy Chief Minister, resigned from the seat.
“Caste is the main factor here,” says Ram Singh Patel, a farmer of Ramapur village. “I don’t know much about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s achievements, except his recent air strikes. I am voting for the BJP because they have fielded a leader from my caste.”
Apart from sharing the same Kurmi links, Congress candidate Pankaj Patel has the added advantage of political lineage — his father-in-law, the late Sonelal Patel, was a prominent Kurmi leader, while his mother-in-law, Krishna Patel, is the Congress candidate from Gonda. Congress district president Anil Dwivedi said the party is “in a good fight” in Phulpur.
However, the Sonelal Patel legacy is caught in a family fight, with Krishna’s younger daughter Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal(S) a BJP ally. Anupriya is contesting from Mirzapur, 90 km away, which votes on May 19.
Among the other castes, such as OBCs, the BJP is riding high on the Modi government’s popularity. Umapati Kushwaha, a labourer in Habibpur village, said, “Construction of a road in the village was pending for over two decades because of a local dispute. That road was developed when Keshav Prasad Maurya became Deputy CM.” He also attributes the highway connecting Allahabad with Jaunpur via Phulpur to BJP rule.
However, Shyam Lal Vishwakarma, who belongs to another OBC caste, says “BJP leaders forget the public after winning”. “SP leaders are not like that. In the 2018 bypolls and 2004 general elections, I had voted for Atiq Ahmed because he is very helpful.” He says he will vote for the SP-BSP again.
Ahmed is contesting as an Independent candidate from Varanasi.
Manish Yadav, employed in Sahsahan’s Power Department, said that as Yadavs, their vote was for the SP. “This alliance is based on caste calculations and I have to strengthen it.”
Ashfaq Ansari, a farmer in Azad Nagar, said as there was no Muslim candidate, the community would support the SP-BSP. He said the Congress didn’t seem to be in a position to win.
Kamlesh Kumar, a Jatav Dalit, and an employee in a hardware shop in Phulpur market, agreed, adding that he wants BSP chief Mayawati to be PM. “If she gets more than 30 seats and the BJP’s numbers decrease, opposition parties will back her,” Kumar said.
However, Lokesh Nishad, a boatman in Sangam area in Jhoonsi, said he would vote for the BJP again as he trusted the Modi government’s claims on national security.
Bhupesh Nishad, who will vote for the BJP too, said the 2018 bypoll results were no indicator as many had stayed away because of it being a by-election.