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Azamgarh: The Lok Sabha bypolls in Uttar Pradesh today, June 23, come close on the heels of the violence in several major cities of the state on June 10, in protests against anti-Islam comments made Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.
The protests were followed by a series of arrests, bulldozing of houses and the display of other repressive tactics of the state government, most of it targeting a particular community.
Before the aftereffects of the June 10 protests subsided, another massive protest erupted as students and youth came out on the streets against the Union’s Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the army. Incidents of arson and violence were reported from various cities and towns. The outrage has not died down yet.
In Azamgarh, the parliamentary seat has been vacated by Leader of Opposition Akhilesh Yadav. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Dharmendra Yadav, former MP from Badaun. Meanwhile, the BJP has once again fielded Bhojpuri star singer Dinesh Yadav ‘Nirhua’. The Bahujan Samaj Party has also nominated local leader, Guddu Jamali, who is a familiar face for the party.
Azamgarh has long been the hub and focal point of opposition politics in Uttar Pradesh.
The winning candidates from the constituency have either been communist party members or Janata Dal leaders and, after the 1990s, the SP or the BSP.
While the BJP has so far been unable to make a mark in the constituency, despite losing the 2019 elections, the party’s candidate Nirhua managed to bag about 3.5 lakh votes. In the last assembly elections, BJP emerged as the number two political party on all the seats in Azamgarh.
Now, BJP has left no stone unturned to win the bypolls, putting all its energy into campaigning for the seat and engaging all ministers from the top to the booth levels. While enumerating the achievements of his government, Chief Minister Adityanath said in a rally held on June 19, “Here’s an opportunity to transform Azamgarh into Aryamgarh, don’t miss it.”
Without a pause, he targeted the SP and BSP governments and said, “Azamgarh came to be identified as a bastion of terror during the SP and the BSP rule, which needs to be changed.”
Meanwhile, the SP candidate Dharmendra Yadav, has highlighted his government’s achievements and targeted the BJP on its tyrannical rule, its attack on the constitution, rising unemployment among youth, and other such issues.
The BSP candidate Guddu Jamali emphasised the fact that he is a local leader and a popular figure among voters and that he was chosen by the minority community as their representative.
In spite of these claims and counter-claims, allegations and counter-allegations, there is not much enthusiasm among voters regarding the polls, and so the vote percentage is likely to be low.
Among feats claimed by various governments was the transition of Azamgarh from district to division, the establishment of a medical college, the Purvanchal Expressway, the airport under construction, laying of the foundation stone of a new university, and so on.
However, no one raised the deplorable condition of education, health and other amenities and institutions already in place in Azamgarh.
There is no factory or industry to provide employment to youth, nor are any efforts in this direction being made. People from all communities here are either farmers or travel to work in the Gulf countries.
However, the pathetic state of agriculture is a known fact. In 2022, the target of wheat procurement at government centres till June 15 was 71,000 metric tonnes in Azamgarh, of which only 19% i.e. 13,685 metric tonnes could be purchased.
Local farmers claim that the government had assured them that it would procure wheat from each field, but only 73 procurement centres have been opened in the entire district, i.e., not even one centre per Nyaya Panchayat on average. The MSP of wheat fixed by the government is Rs 2,050 per quintal. However, the farmer has to spend an additional amount on online slip issuance, transportation of produce, and on conveyance charges to reach the centre, apart from enduring a 5% deduction from the MSP for moisture content in the crop.
To avoid such hurdles and expenditures, a farmer considers it more profitable to sell produce at Rs 1,800-Rs 1,900 per quintal to a local trader. The roads within the city and in the village have been in a dilapidated condition for many years.
Despite such a situation, that the poll results will ultimately be decided by caste equations is a truth known to all.
Azamgarh has 45% Yadav and Muslim voters, 20% ‘upper’ castes, and 20% Dalits, while the rest belong to Other Backward Castes.
So far, the SP’s strength has been the Yadav-Muslim alliance, which strongly favours the party. In 2014, when Mulayam Singh was contesting elections from the constituency, the BJP candidate, local muscleman, Ramakant Yadav (who is now an SP MLA) and the BSP’s Guddu Jamali gave him tough competition. The Yadavs and some sections of the Muslim community were successful in overcoming it. This time, the circumstances differ, but similar efforts are afoot.
According to Dalit intellectual, Dr Shivkumar, who is a dentist from Jianpur, the fragmentation among Dalit voters that surfaced during the last assembly elections persists. Dalits are no longer as committed to the BSP. In such a situation, the votes of the community will be fragmented too and the BSP will not get their votes en bloc.
Jamali also has little support from the Muslim community. Local MLAs and even urban intellectuals believe that the ongoing ‘bulldozer politics’ in Uttar Pradesh and the way Muslims are being targeted and attacked will not translate into a lot of votes for the BSP.
Suresh Agarwal, a local businessman associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since childhood, says, “Guddu Jamali will successfully cause a dent in the Muslim vote bank. Then the BJP will move from number two to number one because the Yadavs are completely with the SP.”
Azam Khan addressed two rallies in a single day in Azamgarh while Adityanath also held two rallies. Also active was 84-year-old four-time SP MLA Alam Badi and Omprakash Rajbhar. Akhilesh Yadav was a noted absence from the campaign ground.
On June 26, the results will reveal whether BJP has been able to make inroads in the SP’s bastion.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.