The workers’ sentiments about lagging behind the BSP and SP were not limited to Banda alone, but could be heard resonating across all seven of Bundelkhand’s districts, which goes to polls on February 23, as part of phase four. Even in non-Bundelkhand districts like Fatehpur, BJP activists were not very confident, as the BSP and SP were the main contestants for the majority of the seats here. “BJP will only come into contest at Fatehpur sadar seat if an H-M (abbreviation of Hindu-Muslim polarisation widely used in UP) angle comes up, but that’s not likely as there is no Muslim candidate on the sadar seat this time”, said a local journalist in the press gallery of Mayawati’s rally in Fatehpur, which was attended by a huge crowd. “But still we are keeping that possibility open as the PM is going to address a rally in Fatehpur,” said some BJP activists in Fatehpur town.
And Prime Minister Narendra Modi did deliver on these expectations by making overtly communal statements about shamshan ghats (cremation grounds) and kabristans (burial grounds), while also commenting on the alleged discrimination at play in the supply of electricity on the days of Hindu and Muslim festivals. The statements come at a crucial time, before a crucial phase. Other than trying to overcome the party’s comparative weakness, the BJP’s strategy seems to be to polarise Hindu voters. Fears of Muslim polarisation appear to have receded after the completion of phase two, which had a significant number of Muslim voters. “If the Muslims polarise in these phases, that won’t make much effect as their numbers are not much here and they are anyhow going to vote against us. But if the Hindus polarise, then it will benefit BJP, and that’s our objective”, said a BJP leader in Jalaun, on condition of anonymity.
Bundelkhand has nineteen seats, and the BJP only managed to win three seats here in the 2012 elections. This time, the party has hopes for the Rath (SC) seat of Hamirpur, Charkhari seat of Mahoba, Jhansi sadar and Garauntha seats of Jhansi and all three seats of Jalaun. But the chance of clinching most of the seats is comparatively low, which is forcing the party to use whatever is at its disposal. That’s why the party has fielded candidates like Ashok Chandel on the Hamirpur seat, who is alleged to have been involved in the murder of an influential Brahmin family in the region. As a result, Brahmins are polarising against the party, in favour of the BSP’s Sanjiv Dixit.
But it’s not just the BJP which has fielded tainted candidates in these elections. For example, the BSP’s Sanjiv Dixit is known to be part of the “mining mafia” in the region. At the Kalpi seat of Jalaun, Congress candidate Uma Kanti Singh’s husband is accused in a couple of murder cases, and at the Chitrakoot seat, the SP’s candidate and sitting MLA, Veer Singh Patel, is the son of the dreaded dacoit, Dadua. Though Dadua was killed in an encounter some years ago, Veer Singh allegedly still enjoys the support of the dacoit gangs which are active here.
Other than this, a couple of candidates in Bundelkhand are contesting on the plank of sympathy votes. At the Mahoba sadar seat, the BSP’s Arimardan Singh ‘Nana’, who is credited for getting separate district status for Mahoba, is asking people to vote for him as this is ‘his last election’. Arimardan Singh was a Congress candidate in the 2012 elections and lost the election by around five thousand votes only.Similar woes, different parties
Besides this, all the parties are suffering due to rebellion in the region. At the Mehroni (SC) seat of Lalitpur, the BSP’s ex zonal coordinator Brijlal Khabri is now contesting on a Congress ticket, while the SP’s Ramesh Khatik has refused to withdraw his nomination in favour of Khabri, the alliance’s official candidate. The SP is also facing factional in-fighting on the Babina seat of Jhansi, as the local SP strongman Chandrapal Singh Yadav got the party ticket for his son Yashpal, after by-passing Shyam Sundar Paricha and Punjab Singh Yadav – which has not gone well with the Yadav voters here.
Though the alliance appears strong at the Banda and Chitrakoot districts due to the presence of strong MLAs like Daljeet Singh at Tindwari, Vivek Singh at Banda, Vishambhar Yadav at Baberu and Veer Singh Patel at Karvi; its chances in the rest of Bundelkhand are weak, except some seats like Garauntha. Despite suffering some erosion of support from non-Yadav OBCs like the Kushwaha and Kurmi communities, the BSP still appears to be in better shape, due to its consolidation of Dalit votes and its organisational network’s ability to pull votes from various sections of society.
But the BJP is still in the running due to districts like Allahabad, Pratapgarh and Raebareli. Politically, Allahabad is UP’s biggest district with twelve assembly seats – more than half of entire Bundelkhand. The SP performed extremely well here in 2012, winning eight seats while the Congress won one and the BSP three as the BJP drew a blank. This time, like Lucknow, the urban voters are returning to the BJP, creating troubles for the SP. A senior Congress leader accepted that the party may not be able to retain even half of the seats in the district. Two ex-student union leaders of Allahabad University – Anugrah Narayan on Allahabad North and Richa Singh at Allahabad West – are contesting from the alliance this year. However, Richa is failing to generate any momentum against the BSP’s Pooja Pal, Narayan too is facing a tough contest from the BJP’s Harsh Vajpayee. On the Handia and Meja seats of Allahabad, the SP seems extremely weak as the main contest seems to be between the BJP and BSP.
It is the same case in Rae Bareli and Pratapgarh where the BJP is expected to do well. Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya, is safe on his Kunda seat, where his opponents are not daring to even campaign – a fact that he is using to mock them in his election rallies. But the alliance’s candidates are facing tough competition on all the remaining seats in the district, including the Rampur Khas seat which was considered the fiefdom of the Congress’s Pramod Tiwari. The intensity of the contest is evident from the fact that the Congress has allegedly attacked the BJP and BSP candidates three times here up till now. And on seats like Patti and Pratapgarh sadar, the SP appears relatively less intense as the BSP and BJP are the main contestants.
The alliance has failed to make any impact in the Gandhi stronghold of Rae Bareli, as on two of the district’s seats – Unchahar and Sareni – both the parties have fielded separate candidates against each other. Other than the Rae Bareli sadar seat, where Aditi Singh of the Congress appears strong, the remaining seats are locked in a strong contest where the BJP and BSP are better placed than the alliance’s candidates (except Unchahar, where the Congress is the main contestant). And in the Kaushambi district, the BSP’s zonal coordinator, Indrajit Saroj, appears strong on the Manjhanpur SC seat as the remaining two seats of are locked in a close, triangular fight, with independent candidates spoiling the calculations at both places.
While the BJP’s advances in the previous phases seem to have hit a sudden halt in phase four, one thing remains the same – the SP is expected to fail at retaining its existing seats, continuing a trend that was visible in the first three phases as well. “We may stop at 140-50 seats”, accepted a senior leader of the INC-SP alliance in Allahabad, “but we hope that BJP too would fail to get a majority as BSP too may perform better than expected.”