The high voltage Uttar Pradesh Assembly election reaches its final round as 54 constituencies spread over nine districts of Purvanchal will vote on Monday. These include Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi and prime contender Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s Lok Sabha seat Azamgarh.
While Mr. Modi spent three days in Varanasi, ahead of the poll date, Mr. Yadav turned up in Azamgarh on the last day of canvassing. The adjoining districts, in many ways, reflect the agenda of the 2022 polls. The BJP kept trying to pull it towards Hindutva and Muslim appeasement, while the SP worked towards caste realignment and raising what it felt were real issues concerning the common man.
During the campaign, the BJP tried to connect the SP bastion with terrorism, after five residents of the district were sentenced to death in the Ahmedabad serial blasts case of 2008. The SP, on the other hand, said it was a last-ditch attempt to polarise the elections and divert attention from real issues.
2.03 crore voters
A total of 2.03 crore voters will exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 613 candidates. Out of 54, 11 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes, two in Sonbhadra district are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. In this phase, three seats — Chakia (Chandauli), Roberstsganj, and Duddhi (Sonbhadra) — are described as Naxal-hit areas.
Once considered the stronghold of the SP, in 2017, the BJP turned the tide, winning 29 out of 54 seats in this region. The SP had grabbed 11 and the Bahujan Samaj Party six seats. While the Nishad Party won one seat from Gyanpur in Bhadohi, the Apna Dal (Sonelal) and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, allies of the BJP, won four and three seats, respectively. This time the SBSP has joined hands with the SP, while the Nishad Party is in alliance with the BJP.
The phase will decide whether the SP’s new friends among most backward castes will be able to shift their vote bank to Mr. Yadav or courtesy the direct benefit transfer of welfare schemes, Mr. Modi has developed a direct rapport with voters of these communities.
Some of the key constituencies include Zahoorabad in Mau district where SBSP president Om Prakash Rajbhar is locked in a triangular contest, with the BJP keen to defeat its erstwhile partner, even if it meant striking a deal with the BSP that has fielded a strong Muslim candidate in Shadab Fatima
Mukhtar Ansari’s son
In Mau Sadar, gangster Mukhtar Ansari’s son Abbas Ansari is in the fray on a SBSP ticket, perhaps because the SP did not want to be seen openly supporting a candidate whose father’s name is being used by the BJP in every rally. Interestingly, it has left many of the SP hopefuls in the constituency bitter.
In Ghosi, Dara Singh Chauhan, who switched from the BJP to the SP at the last minute, is facing a tough fight from the BJP’s Vijay Rajbhar. The seat will decide whether the BJP has done its caste arithmetic right. Local observers said the party knew beforehand that some of the MBCs would ditch it.
The appointment of Phagu Chauhan, who won the seat in 2017, as the Governor of Bihar in 2019 is being seen in this light. Similarly, in Shivpur (Varanasi), Arvind Rajbhar, son of the SBSP chief, is locking horns with the BJP’s Rajbhar face Anil Rajbhar to decide who is the real representative of the community.
In Malhani (Jaunpur), Lucky Yadav, son of Mulayam Singh’s long-time associate Parasnath Yadav who passed away in 2020, is in the fray. He is contesting against BJP strongman Dhananjay Singh whom his father defeated in 2017. The contest has become even more interesting after the SP patriarch turned up in Malhani to hold a public meeting in support of Mr. Yadav.