Etah, Kasganj and Firozabad: Imagine a seat like Etah Sadar, falling in the Yadav-dominated Etah district, where the sitting MLA Ashish Yadav is a young Samajwadi Party (SP) leader with a clean image. (He is also the son of Ramesh Yadav, the speaker of Uttar Pradesh legislative council.) Who could have expected that Ashish would be dropped by the young chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is on a ‘cleaning drive’ to shed the party’s past image, that too in favour of a candidate of bahubali credentials? But that is what happened and Ashish is now a rebel candidate from the same seat. Why? Because he sided with the Shivpal Yadav faction, which lost the fight for succession within the SP.
Rebel trouble for the SP and BJP
The SP has finally succeed in creating an alliance with the Congress, which would help it in projecting the image of a strong, secular alternative in the state. But the seat distribution has caused a lot of dissatisfaction within party ranks, leaving many ticket aspirants high and dry. Further, the infighting between Akhilesh and Shivpal’s rival camps has left a lot of bad blood between faction leaders and their supporters, and though the Akhilesh camp emerged triumphant in this tussle and the party escaped an imminent split, the situation is far from normal. While Shivpal’s campaign video has completely missed featuring his nephew, Akhilesh’s campaign video also treats his uncle in a similar vein, with Shivpal’s name also missing from the ‘star campaigners’ list. In this situation, foul play by rival factions is expected – and that could weaken the party’s prospects in its strongholds. Increasing the problems are rival candidates, who have sprung up on a number of seats, and the asantusht tikitarthi (dissatisfied ticket seekers) who are working against the party.
On the Etah seat, Ashish’s ticket was cancelled in favour of Jugeshwar Yadav, brother of Rameshwar Yadav, an SP MLA from the Aliganj seat in Etah district who has a number of criminal cases registered against him, while Jugeshwar also carries a bahubali image. Rameshwar’s son Subodh also got party ticket from the Bhojpur seat of Farrukhabad, which was later withdrawn. Ashish is now contesting as an independent candidate and is expected to get some of the Yadav votes here. “His target is not to win, but to defeat Jugeshwar,” says local journalist Sushil Katiyar, “by taking away some Yadav votes. This would help both the BSP and the BJP.”
The party also dropped its sitting MLA Man Pal Singh Lodhi on the Lodhi-dominated seat of Kasganj, angering the Lodhi voters, while on the Patiyali seat of Kasganj, it dropped sitting MLA Najeeba Khan Zeenat in favour of a Yadav candidate, angering the Muslims. “Due to this, the BJP is likely to benefit at the Kasganj seat as it has fielded a Lodhi here, while shift of Muslim votes at Patiyali and Amanpur seats will help the BSP, all at the cost of SP,” says local political expert Ajay Jhavar. As I talk to Muslim respondents in Sahawar, Patiyali, and Ganjdundwara town, I find a section of Muslims is very vocal about supporting the BSP here.
These problems are not limited to Etah and Kasganj districts alone. In the Firozabad district, the Nishad respondents at Shikohabad expressed their anger over the denial of a ticket to sitting Nishad MLA Om Prakash Verma in favour of Sanjay Yadav, while at the Jasrana seat, sitting MLA Ramveer Yadav was dropped by the party in favour of Shiv Pratap Yadav, a first timer. Ramveer is now contesting as an independent on the Jasrana seat. And on the Shikohabad seat, Ramprakash Yadav Mahru, the maternal grandfather of Mainpuri SP MP Tej Pratap Yadav, is contesting as an independent. A few of these candidates are saying that they have the “blessings and support of Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav)” – including Suman Diwakar, the independent candidate from the Kishni (SC) seat, who was also made a member of UP women’s commission by the SP.
SP MLC and party leader in Firozabad, Asim Yadav, tries to dismiss these allegations. “It’s the job of the media to look into all negative things, but let me tell you, we are winning all of the seats and coming back to power.” Asim’s optimism is not reflected in the replies of Yadav respondents in these areas, who agree that a section of Yadav votes will split, helping the BJP and BSP. If that happens, the SP, which won all four seats of Etah and Mainpuri districts, two of three seats in Kasganj and three of five seats in Firozabad, won’t be able to repeat its performance. Many observers feel this is quite likely.
It’s not the SP alone that is facing these problems – the BJP has its own fair share. As it failed to keep the caste arithmetic in mind while distributing tickets, its vote base among the ‘upper’ castes is in jeopardy in a number of seats. In the Agra district, it fielded only one Brahmin candidate out of nine seats, while the BSP fielded three. “There are around three lakh Brahmin voters in the district, they will not like this,” says local journalist Faheem. This is reflected in the mood of Brahmin respondents in the Brahmin-dominated rural seats of Bah and Fatehabad. “We will vote for Sainthiya (BSP candidate Pandit Umesh Sainthiya) as BJP has not just fielded a non-Brahmin, but an outsider too,” says 32-year-old Anil Sharma in Paintigarha village, Fatehabad. And in Bah, the birthplace of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Brahmin and Dalit respondents were both quite vocal in expressing their support for the BSP candidate Pandit Madhusudan Sharma, against BJP’s Thakur candidate Pakshalika Singh.
The Jats are also not happy with the BJP. On the Fatehpur Sikri seat of Agra, called mini Chaprauli due to high number of Jat votes, the BJP denied a ticket to Rajkumar Chahar, who is expected to rebel and cut Jat votes. “Chahar will get 10,000-15,000 Jat votes, while Rashtriya Lok Dal will also cut some, which would help the BSP candidate,” said several respondents in the Jat-dominated Abhuapura, Dura and Nagla Hiraman villages.
Similarly, the denial of a ticket to the ‘best-suited’ candidates in favour of those with unchi pahunch (high contacts) is also threatening to weaken the BJP’s poll prospects. The Patiyali seat of Kasganj is a classic example, where those who were denied a BJP ticket and the person who got it are all unhappy. The party denied a ticket to Shyam Sundar Gupta, who is angry as he had reportedly spent huge sums of money to finance party programmes here. But its candidate, Mamtesh Shakya, is also angry as he is a sitting MLA from the Amanpur seat in the same district and wanted the ticket from there. Shakya respondents in Amanpur allege that Mamtesh was sent to Patiyali because Kalyan Singh’s son Rajveer wanted to field a Lodh candidate from Amanpur. This exercise has ended up creating problems for BJP candidates in both the seats. “Bhajpa ne red pit dayi (BJP spoiled the game),” sums up 55-year-old Jagveer Singh in the Thakur-dominated Hathoda Van village of Patiyali. The only hope for the party lies in the fact that it did not have much to lose in these districts, as it won only three of the 21 seats of Agra, Firozabad, Etah and Kasganj districts in the previous assembly elections, ahead of only the Congress which won none.
While both the BJP and the SP are facing these issues, the BSP seems to be free of them. The reason lies in the fact that the party was the first to declare its candidates and did so a while ago. “Jisko jahan jana tha tabhi chala gaya, ab hamare yahan shanti hai aur sab prachar main lage hain (Those who wanted to go anywhere went out then only, now there is peace in our party and people are busy in campaign),” said 35-year-old Prabhakar Singh, the BSP general secretary of Anupshahr seat in Bulandshahr district.
Though its customary for parties to see infighting and rebellious candidates after ticket announcements, the problem within the SP seems larger. And while the BSP and the BJP seem to be gaining from these problems, the SP’s prospects of returning to power will suffer if it fails to repeat its 2012 performance in this area.
Rajan Pandey is an independent journalist and author of Battleground UP: Politics in the Land of Ram.