UP: In Sirathu, Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya Is on a Sticky Wicket

The anti-incumbency sentiment against the Yogi Adityanath government is upsetting the caste-based calculations that appeared to favour the BJP initially.

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Prayagraj: Amid an intense discussion on Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in the Patel-dominated Paltipur village, an elderly resident appears to be batting for the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Pallavi Patel. “We are the deputy chief minister’s constituency only symbolically. Did he come even once to see how we are living with the problem of stray cattle? The schools have not opened for almost two years. Did he come to check on our children, how they are coping?” he asks.

He was responding to Bansdeo Patel, who represents the BJP’s electoral ally, the Apna Dal (Sonelal), in the village. The 55-year-old Bansdeo was accompanying his party’s team comprising Saroj Kuril, who contested from the reserved Ghatampur assembly seat in Kanpur and her husband Satya Prakash Kuril. Both of them had driven down from Ghatampur, where polling ended in the third phase, to campaign in Kaushambi district where polling is scheduled on February 27.

“Kurmis (Patels) have never pressed the ‘cycle’ button in this village. Many of them are resentful of the BJP government in the state but they will eventually come around,” Bansdeo Patel tells The Wire, even as a group of Patel residents remained unconvinced.

Kurmi voters. Photo: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashastha

Kaushambi’s Paltipur is a prominent village in the Sirathu assembly seat where deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya is contesting. Apart from Patels who have been voting for the BJP since 2014, Pasis and Khatiks – Scheduled Caste communities – also form a sizeable number. Maurya was elected in the 2012 assembly polls but quit the seat to contest for the 2014 parliamentary elections from Prayagraj’s Phulpur. After the BJP formed the government in 2017, he vacated Phulpur to join the Uttar Pradesh legislative council to continue his role as the deputy chief minister. 

In 2022, however, he decided to come back to Sirathu but is up against a formidable challenge by the Samajwadi Party candidate Pallavi Patel. She is stalwart Kurmi leader Sonelal Patel’s daughter. After his death, Apna Dal split into two halves: one led by Sonelal’s eldest daughter and Union minister Anupriya Patel who leads Apna Dal (Sonelal); and one by his wife Krishna Patel, who steers Apna Dal (Kamerawadi). 

Anupriya has been with the National Democratic Alliance since 2014, while the Krishna Patel-led Apna Dal (Kamewadi) has now joined ranks with Akhilesh Yadav. In Sirathu, Anupriya’s younger daughter Pallavi from the Krishna Patel faction is contesting against Maurya but on the SP’s symbol bicycle.

For Kurmi voters of Sirathu, therefore, voting has become a task to choose between two sisters, both of whom are well-liked in the community. 

A Brahmin resident of Paltipur, also a devout BJP supporter, explains, “Kurmi votes are surely going to split. The problem is that there is huge resentment against Keshav Prasad Maurya in the constituency. He never visited the constituency during his tenure as the deputy CM. His son and nephew are his point persons in the seat but they are very unpopular because of the way they behaved with commoners in the last five years.”

“With different problems like stray cattle, declining incomes of farmers, and overall lack of development in the constituency despite being a high-profile seat, I am guessing that Kurmi votes will shift in great numbers towards Pallavi Patel. The BJP should have fielded the sitting legislator and popular Kurmi leader Sheetla Prasad. He would definitely have won,” he says. 

Photo: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

Across the road, Dalit leader Saroj Kuril, Apna Dal (Sonelal) candidate from Ghatampur was busy convincing the women voters in the ‘Dalit side’ of the village, where largely Pasi and Khatik communities stay. “You have to think about which party is better. The BJP works for us. It is a mistake to think only along caste lines,” she told the Pasi and Khatik women gathered there. 

Pet par hi laat maar di is sarkaar ne toh. Inke log maar peet karte rahte hai bas (This government has ruined our incomes. The BJP fellows keep fighting and beating people here),” responded one of the Pasi women.

Upon overhearing the conversation, Saroj’s husband Satya Prakash Kuril told this correspondent, “The day caste discrimination ends, Hindu religion will become strong. Both [Prime Minister Narendra] Modiji and [UP chief minister] Yogi Adityanathji do not believe in any form of discrimination. Only the jaahil (rogue elements) in the party spoil their image.” The Kuril couple joined the BJP only recently, a month ahead of the polls. Saroj had been a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate from Ghatampur twice and lost both elections with marginal votes. 

Saroj Kuril of Apna Dal (Sonelal) [in yellow suit] speaks to voters. [R] Bansdeo Patel and Saroj Kuril’s husband Satya Prakash.

Sirathu’s electoral contest is tighter than it seems on paper. The anti-incumbency against the Adityanath government is upsetting the caste-based calculations that appeared to favour the BJP initially. The two-most populous communities in the seat are Kurmis and Pasis, followed by Muslims, Mauryas, and Brahmins. These communities together make up 70% of the seat’s voters.

However, in the conversations The Wire had with people from different communities, Keshav Prasad Maurya is universally unpopular, even while some of them preferred the BJP over SP.

While Yadavs, Muslims, Pasis and a small business community called Kesarwanis seemed to consolidate behind the SP, a significant section of Mauryas and Khatiks also spoke of switching to SP this time around. 

Five kilometres away from Paltipur is one of the biggest villages of the constituency, Shahzadpur. Here, at the Khatik colony, residents were so angry at the state government’s lack of interest in providing even basic facilities. “A number of us are still living in kutcha houses. The pucca houses you see are built by mostly those who work in Delhi or Mumbai. None of us received any housing funds. There is not even a single drain here. The schools have stopped. The government wants us to remain uneducated,” Archana Devi Sonkar told The Wire. Archana exited her MA programme because of poor family income. “What is the use of higher education when we can’t even have jobs,” she asked. 

Residents of the Khatik colony of Shahzadpur in Sirathu assembly seat. Photo: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

Moni Devi, another resident, said, “The government did not open MGNREGA jobs at all. We have been without any income for months now. We consider ourselves lucky if a private contractor gets us even 10 days of work in a month.”

“There are four hand pumps in the village. Only one works and even that is hard water,” another woman intervened.

“We did not have even a single toilet here. The new pradhan (elected village head) built 10 new toilets only two months ago. But since there is no water here, we don’t use them,” said Antim Sonkar of Sahzadpur. 

The new pradhan is an SP member and belongs to the Yadav community. The Wire could see unused toilets in the locality and reached out to Pradhan Udham Singh for a response. “I have had very little time as the pradhan. The Sonkar colony is the most under-developed in the area. But I have initiated all the paperwork. Once elections are over, they should get PM Awas funds and a proper drain,” he said. 

Yadav and Muslim-majority areas in Jhandapur-Bamrauli village in Sirathu seat. Photo: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

Similarly, at the Shahzadpur junction, Keswawani respondents spoke about how the government demolished their shops to widen the highway, and swore by the SP. Even Maurya residents of one village along the highway seemed undecided whether to vote for Keshav Prasad or not. “The government has brought poor people on the verge of death. That is why Swami Prasad Maurya left the government. We want change but we haven’t decided on our vote yet,” said Laxmiprasad Maurya, a tea shop owner in Sirathu.    

Barring the Brahmins, Thakurs, and a section of smaller communities like Mallah, Prajapati, Vishwakarma, Vaihsya and Pals, who despite speaking about facing multiple adversities supported BJP, none of the respondents from numerically stronger communities voiced their allegiance to the saffron party. 

The deputy chief minister has a tough battle ahead. His party is mostly banking on Pallavi Patel’s lack of electoral experience to secure the seat, even as it heavily relies on traditional caste-based preference of numerically-stronger communities for the BJP to edge out the SP.