Up against arithmetic of caste combination, the on-paper strength of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance, and some amount of disillusionment over lack of employment opportunities, the BJP is trying to make it a contest between politics of development and caste to retain Ghazipur seat in eastern UP.
The development and public welfare works done in the constituency over the last five years are the key highlights in the party’s campaign for its candidate, Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha, up against the alliance candidate, Afzal Ansari of the BSP.
Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Polling schedule, results date, constituency-wise results, FAQs, key candidates
Afzal is brother of jailed BSP MLA Mukhtar Ansari, known to be a baahubali (muscleman). In 2014, when Sinha won by polling 31 per cent votes, the combined vote strength of the unsuccessful SP and BSP candidates were nearly 51 per cent.
At a rally in Ghazipur on May 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on that very “development” line. Stating that work done in the constituency is visible, he asked the people, “Kamwa chahi ki jaatiwad chahi? Shanti aur sammaan chahi ki mafia ki dhauns chah? (Do you want work or casteism? Do you want peace and respect or mafia intimidation?)”
The under-construction highway connecting Varanasi with Ghazipur, revamp of railway stations, and development of various other railway projects in the district may have led to a goodwill for Sinha, but unavailability of jobs and the caste factors appear to be influencing a large chunk of voters in favour of the opposition alliance.
In all, BJP lists around 75 major development and welfare works that Sinha has done for the constituency.
But Lalji Yadav, resident of Mahmoodpur village, barely 100 metres from a DEMU shed developed by the Railways next to Aunrihar railway station, did not appear much impressed. “I have always received help under SP governments in the state, and I always vote for the party. My two daughters received laptops when Akhilesh Yadav was the chief minister. Since SP is in alliance with BSP this time, I will vote for Afzal Ansari,” he said.
Adjacent Saimalpur village has nearly 500 voters from Rajbhar community. While many villagers praised Sinha’s work as a Union minister and the Narendra Modi government’s “action against terror”, the youth complained about lack of employment opportunities.
“No recruitment process has been completed in the state in the last two years under a BJP government. Beautification of railway stations is not going to give me a government job,” said Anuj Rajbhar, a graduation student.
In nearby Chamrauti village, primarily comprising Dalit residents, Kamal Kumar said Sinha has only utilised the Railways budget for development projects. “Why should I vote for him? Problems of my everyday life will be addressed only when the BSP comes to power. Only Behanji (BSP chief Mayawati) speaks about us – I have to strengthen Behanji politically (by voting for BSP),” he said.
To make it a seamless alliance, local SP and BSP units are holding joint nukkad sabhas (meetings in localities). SP chief Akhilesh Yadav addressed a joint rally with Mayawati in support of Ansari in Ghazipur on May 13.
Akhilesh’s presence at the venue held significance, as the SP, under pressure from the then CM, had called off the Ansari brothers-led Quami Ekta Dal’s merger with it in 2016. The merger plans had been mediated by Akhilesh’s uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav.
A BSP leader said, “Local BJP workers are referring to that 2016 incident and spreading a rumour that the SP leadership is was not backing Afzal Ansari. Akhilesh’s joint address with Behenji for Ansari will wipe out all such baseless rumours.”
SP district president Nanhku Singh Yadav said, “When the SP and BSP have reunited after 26 years, everything that occurred in the interim are now meaningless. The party leadership has directed us to actively support the BSP candidate.”