In the Senda village market in Bareilly’s Bithri constituency, a large crowd has gathered. The village pradhan is pulling up a teenager for shooting a video of him with BSP MLA Vijendra Singh.
Why should that annoy the pradhan? “Pradhan sahib has good relations also with Veerpal Singh Yadav [SP candidate]. What if he wins?” a shopkeeper explains. “Though Vijendra Singh has done a lot of work here, Akhilesh Yadav too is popular. Also, much will depend on how Muslims vote.”
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In a triangular fight in UP, the SP-Congress and the BSP are both vying for the Muslim vote; the BJP is hoping this competition will divide that vote while consolidating the Hindu vote. A visit to various constituencies in Bareilly district, however, shows it is much more complex than the assumption that the Muslim vote will be determined solely on the question of shutting the BJP out.
“Why do people think that the only aim of Muslims is to defeat the BJP?” says Arshad, 30, of Labhera village in Nawabganj. “Don’t we want jobs? Don’t we want better law and order? Don’t we want our earnings to rise, our children to go to good schools?”
At a rally in Bareilly Saturday, Mayawati alleged the BJP always suspected Muslims and stressed how under her regime there were very few riots.
“She is speaking for Muslims, which is fine. But what has she done for Muslims?” says Mohammed Imtiyaz, 35, also of Labhera. “When she comes to power, all government schemes go to Dalits. Yes, law and order has been better under her, but it has improved in the past two years under Akhilesh as well. There is a lot of development too.”
In the reserved constituency of Faridpur, Mausam Khan, 32, of Khempura village says of Mayawati, “She is only saying defeat the BJP. She is not saying what she will do for us.”
In the adjacent Raipura village, Imran, 20, agrees with Akhilesh in that if all those who have got laptops and registered for the promised smartphones vote for the SP, it will win. “I have already applied for the smartphone. So many of the young in the village have also done so,” he says.
In Aonla again, Muslim voters acknowledge Akhilesh as likely to fetch them government benefits and overall development. “Till about six months ago, there was confusion. But now we are rooting for the cycle, largely because of Akhilesh,” says Mohammed Fakhruddin of Nalapar Basti.
Of Nawabganj’s 2.5 lakh voters, about 1 lakh are Muslims. Sitting SP MLA Bhagwat Saran has won five elections here. But Mulayam Singh Yadav loyalist Shaila Tahir, contesting separately, could wean part of the Muslim vote away from the SP.
In Faridpur, while all seem impressed with Akhilesh, many insist it’s the local candidate who ultimately has to get their work done. And not everyone is happy with sitting MLA Siyaram Sagar. “In the past two years, there has been power in the village for 20 hours a day. Look at the road, there isn’t a single pothole. But I am not voting for Sagar, he does not listen to us,” says Fakhruddin, a young farmer of Raipura. “Many in the village will likely go with Vijay Pal Singh (BSP) just to teach Sagar a lesson.”
In Bithri’s Kareli village, labourer Mallan Ansari says he will go with the SP even though the local BSP candidate has done a lot of work. In contrast, Rajesh, a Rajput, says he will vote for the BJP even though he grumbles about demonetisation. “Hamari biradari to wahi jaati hai,” he says.
Aonla’s sitting BJP MLA Dharampal Singh is on a door-to-door campaign and confident. The Lodh-Rajput candidate banks on Narendra Modi’s appeal and caste equations: “There are 60,000 Lodh, 15,000 Mauryas and 12,000 Brahmins in the constituency. They will all vote for the BJP.”
In Meerganj, however, the Mahan Dal, a Maurya party, is campaigning with the singular objective of eating into BJP votes.