Lucknow, Apr 21: It will be a do-or-die political battle for Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and his estranged uncle, Shivpal Singh Yadav who is also chief of Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party Lohia (PSPL) in the third phase polls of 10 Lok Sabha seats to be held on April 23.
Muslim-Yadav factor is dominating one in this phase and there is question in everyone's mind,"Will Akhilesh can sustain the onslaught of the BJP and Shivpal." The constituencies going to polls in the third phase are Firozabad, Mainpuri, Etah, Badaun, Aonla, Moradabad, Sambhal, Rampur, Pilibhit and Barelly. Firozabad, Mainpuri, Etah, Badaun and Aonla have a large presence of the Yadav vote bank and the area is also described as the Yadav land of UP politics. These five seats will also determine the political future of Shivpal.
However, the other five, Moradabad, Sambhal, Rampur, Pilibhit and Barelly, have a strong presence of Muslims. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Firozabad, Mainpuri and Badaun won by the SP, but the BJP had emerged triumphant in the remaining seven seats. Badaun was won by Akhilesh’s cousin, Dharmendra Yadav, who is again contesting from here. The fact that the SP was able to win these three seats despite massive Modi wave is evidence of the party’s strength in the region.
In Badaun, Yadav voters are estimated to be 20 per cent and the total OBC voters 35 per cent. The Yadav vote base is around 26 per cent in Aonla, 21 per cent each in Firozabad and Mainpuri, and 14 per cent in Etah. The maximum base of Muslim voters is 45 per cent in Moradabad. This estimate is 44 per cent in Rampur, 31 per cent in Bareilly, and 25 per cent in Pilibhit.
Of the core Yadav-dominated seats, Aonla has the maximum — 17.5 per cent — of Muslim voters as well. The Dalit vote is uniformly distributed across these constituencies, ranging from 11 per cent to 18 per cent. It is this demography that makes the region unique. In first two phases, the Jat and Gurjar OBC vote was the defining aspect. In the upcoming phase, the strong presence of Dalit and Muslim voters and the caste arithmetic will be mostly defined by the voting choices of the Yadav OBC given the fact that Dalits are expected to be loyal to the alliance due to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
For Muslims as well, the choice is more or less clear, barring a few seats such as Bareilly, Moradabad and Aonla where the Congress is also said to be in the electoral race. Apart from these three seats, the possibility of any split in the Muslim vote is remote. The importance of the Yadav factor can be gauged from the fact that the two biggest arch-rivals, SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati, came together for the first time in 25 years. Both addressed a joint “gathbandhan” rally in Mainpuri on April 19.
Keeping an eye on the core Yadav-OBC votes, Mayawati took the moment to praise Mulayam Singh. “While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a fake OBC, Mulayam Singh ji is the real leader of the OBCs,” she had said at the rally. “He is the one who had united not just the backwards but even other deprived sections of the society,” she added. Despite the memories of the infamous state guest-house attack in 1995, Mayawati said she had come together with the SP “as the country is in danger”.
Mulayam, too, did not lag behind in cementing the new comradeship. In his brief speech, he mentioned Mayawati seven times and welcomed her to Mainpuri, the epicentre of the Yadav heartland. The veteran Politician, known for his “charkha style” (a wrestling style), took everyone by surprise by claiming, “Mayawati ji had often stood by us in times of crises.”
The political game plan was easy to decipher, with Mayawati seated between father Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh, overlooking the massive crowd at the rally. In the region where the BJP is expecting relying to continue its 2014 success march via the Shivpal Yadav factor, the Mainpuri rally was aimed at sending a clear message to Yadavs about the strength of the alliance and to ensure no division of votes.
In an interesting turn of events, Shivpal Yadav, a long-time SP leader, is fighting the electoral race independently via his Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (PSP). Shivpal Yadav is contesting against his nephew, SP candidate Akshay Yadav, in Firozabad. He has also fielded candidates in other constituencies, barring Mainpuri, where he has declared support for Mulayam Singh.
Shivpal Yadav does not hesitate in accepting that his primary agenda is denting the SP-BSP alliance. “The SP-BSP alliance is a ‘thagbandhan’. We will ensure that people are not mislead by the alliance. I am not concerned if the BJP gains out of any split of votes,” he had earlier told to a news channel. But can the historic Mainpuri rally ensure that Yadav voters unite behind the alliance?
Interestingly, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well as the 2017 Assembly polls, a significant section of the OBC voters, especially Yadavs in central and eastern UP, had shifted to the BJP. Professor Prashant Trivedi of Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies explained why the OBCs have generally depicted varying political preferences. “They had been influenced by both the core caste dynamics as well as the larger Hindutva and nationalistic politics,” he said.
“So while for the dominant Jats in west UP, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) might be the traditional party, a movement towards the BJP had also been significant due to communal polarisation like in 2014 and 2017. It’s a similar story for Yadavs in central and eastern UP.” The BJP, too, fully realises the significance of the Yadav-Muslim dynamics that will define the polls here and is eyeing a saffron push to override the caste alignment.
Maybe, that was why UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, at his first rally in Badaun after the 72-hour ban period ended, went back to the agenda of polarisation. Adityanath reignited the debate around “shamshan” (crematorium used by Hindus) and “kabristan” (burial ground of Muslims). “The previous governments prohibited Kanwar Yatras while we lifted the ban on them. Similarly, while previous governments gave funds to ‘kabristans’ and ignored ‘shamshans’, we have ended that discrimination,” he had said.
Igniting a new controversy, he described Shafiq-ur-Rehman Burq, SP candidate from Sambhal, as “Babur ki Aulad” or “Babur's child”.
The BJP has also been vociferous against senior SP leader Azam Khan, who is contesting from Rampur constituency. While Azam Khan ignited a major controversy by directing sexist remarks at rival BJP candidate Jaya Prada, efforts have been made to give it a communal twist as well since the former is seen as a polarising figure.
In the 2009 general elections, the SP had won all these three seats but then lost Firozabad to the Congress candidate Raj Babbar in the by-polls. The Congress had also won Bareilly and Moradabad. The BSP had won Sambhal constituency while the BJP was victorious from Etah, Pilibhit and Aonla. This time around from Pilibhit, the BJP has replaced Union minister Maneka Gandhi with her son, Varun Gandhi.
The election in Moradabad will be of special interest as both the alliance (SP-BSP) and the Congress have fielded Muslim candidates. Dr ST Hassan is the SP candidate while the Congress has given a ticket to famous Urdu poet Imran Pratapgarhi. In Bareilly, Congress fielded Praveen Aron against BJP MP and Union minister Santosh Gangwar and former MLA Bhagwat Sharan Gangwar on SP ticket. UNI