LUCKNOW: The buzz has changed ever so slightly as the UP electoral bandwagon moved into the eastern region of the state. With 89 seats at stake across 14 districts in the sixth and seventh phases on March 4 and 8 respectively, the BJP’s campaign , led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has shifted to a higher gear and refused to back down on demonetization after a couple of weeks of being on the defensive.
And on the other hand, the Samajwadi Party (SP) is defending this turf without the active involvement of Mulayam Singh Yadav in his own constituency of Azamgarh where it won nine out the 10 Assembly seats in 2012. Indeed in the overall region, the, SP had then swept this region, winning 50 out of the 89 seats and. The last stretch is therefore likely to be a trial of Akhilesh Yadav’s acceptance among the masses.
For Narendra Modi, the gentle spin given to the GDP numbers by the Central Statistical Organisation has been timely as he revs up the BJP campaign in a region with a higher proportion of the upper caste vote. The fact that the pangs of demonetization have begun to ease and queues at ATMS have ceased is working to the advantage of the BJP while blunting Akhilesh’s criticism of demonetation.
On the other hand, the challenge for the Samajwadis is stiffer as the party is facing a strong anti-incumbency sentiment in this region.
“The SP government has not done enough in eastern UP despite having won a huge mandate from this region. The party has disappointed its voters across these 14 districts which are grappling with a number of issues,” says a prominent political scientist.
The government did restart a sugar mill in Azamgarh but that is discounted because it happens to be Mulayam’s constituency. “Azamgarh is a VIP constituency, so its voters have an edge over others,” says Lal Bihari Mritak, chief of Mritak Sangh (Deadmen Association).
Eastern UP is basically a region dominated by places of religious importance: Gorakhnath Peeth in Gorakhpur and Varanasi are holy places for the majority community, while districts like Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Mau and Deorai have a chunk of Muslim population. The religious significance of the region is reiterated by the influence of saffron leaders like Yogi Adityanath, who claims to hold sway over 62 of the 89 seats going to polls in the last two phases.
Communal polarization promoted by figures like Yogi Adityanath is coming in handy for the saffron party’s final stretch strategy, with the PM himself making much of kabristans and such like.
While Muslim voters play a key role in Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Mau, Jaunpur and Varanasi, “the role of non-Yadav OBCs and MBCs, who are dominant in some pockets, can also be a deciding factor in the last two phases,” says JP Shukla, a political analyst. Keeping in view the backward caste demography, the BJP has spared a substantial 20 Assembly constituencies in the last two phases to its allies — Anupriya Patel-led Apna Dal and Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suhel Dev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Apart from those 20 seats, the two NDA allies are likely to play a crucial role in attracting Kurmis and most backward classes to the BJP fold.
With the SP-Congress alliance banking on the Muslim-Yadav combination in and around Azamgarh district, the BSP’s ploy to merge the Quami Ekta Dal (QED) of the Ansari brothers will be put to test here. How far will QED be able to consolidate Muslim-Dalit voters in Behenji’s favour is another interesting aspect to be noticed. The Ansaris are said to have a direct impact on 20-odd seats in and
around their den.