LUCKNOW: With voting for the first phase of 2019 LS polls just two days away, the stage is set with war lines running deep in eight seats of western UP. While political bigwigs are focusing last minute energies through back to back rallies, voters might have made up their minds by now.
While issues like unemployment, nationalism, law and order, farmers distress are finding an echo in poll arena, four ‘Cs’ --- Caste, Community, Cane dues, and Cow (stray cattle) -- seem to be ruling the ground zero across eight constituencies -- Saharanpur, Kairana, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Meerut, Gautam Buddh Nagar and Ghaziabad – going to vote on Thursday.
The central theme, however, is likely to be the Modi factor. Those voting for BJP would do so because of him. And those not would also do so be because of him. While 2014 Lok Sabha saw a clean sweep by the saffron bandwagon winning all eight seats of the first phase, in 2019 the opposition is sitting cautiously tight. The fight is assured to be piquant three-cornered with SP-BSP-RLD and Congress strengthening their armours to stop another surge of the saffron.
The demographics of key constituencies, the arithmetic of the alliance, and the popularity of strong local candidates are set to make BJP’s battle tough. However, lack of a strong narrative, inner contradiction of alliance dynamics, absence of leaders capable of being presented as an alternative to PM Narendra Modi and nationalism could even make the BJP breach the SP and BSP vote bank partly. Otherwise also, the saffron strategists will target non-Yadav, non-Jatav Hindu vote bank to accrue maximum gains in a politically hostile situation.
Meanwhile, the Congress, out of alliance, is depending on the charisma of its leaders (Priyanka Gandhi Vadra) and its status of being the only other national party against the BJP to salvage some pride.
Despite a soaring vote share, the BJP is likely to find it formidable to surmount SP-BSP alliance challenge in seats where Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs are in substantial numbers, supplemented with the Jat support of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) especially in Mazuaffarnagar, Baghapt, Meerut and Kairana.
The seat-by-seat stock of issues dominating the discourse throws up an interesting scenario with a likely dent to the ruling party’s prospects.
1. Saharanpur: In a keenly-poised three-cornered contest, division in Muslim votes would impact the outcome. While the BJP has repeated its sitting MP Raghav Lakhanpal who had won the seat with a margin of 65,000 votes against his nearest rival and Saharanpur strongman Imran Masood of Congress. Imran is again in the fray and interestingly, BSP, with a formidable presence in Saharanpur has fielded Fazlur Rehman. Prospective division of Muslim votes necessitated BSP chief Mayawati’s Sunday vote appeal to Muslims.
2. Kairana: With imprints of exodus post-2013 communal riots, Kairan served as the laboratory where SP-BSP-RLD alliance was consolidated during 2018 bypoll which BJP lost despite enjoying the legacy of strong Gurjar leader late Hukum Singh. The sitting BJP MP, whose demise resulted in Kairana bypoll, had won the seat with a margin of around two lakh votes drubbing Nahid Hasan of Samajwadi Party in 2014. In 2019, while alliance has repeated Tabassum Hasan, the actual fight would be between Congress and BJP. Congress has fielded popular jat leader Harendra Malik and BJP Pradeep Chaudhury, also a popular Jat leader, many time MLA from Gangoh assembly seat. Over 42 per cent upper caste votes would decide the outcome.
3. Muzaffarnagar: Muzaffarnagar had decided the BJP sweep in western UP in 2014 with 2013 riots a major issue. In 2019, the air has a different tinge as BJP’s prominent Jat leader and sitting MP Sanjeev Balyan is facing the challenge from none other than RLD chief Ajit Singh himself as the alliance candidate. While Balyan is believed to have promising clout among backwards, upper caste and also jats, Ajit Singh, 80, fighting his last election, is depending on the support bases of SP, BSP and Muslims along with jats the caste he belongs to. The battle is tough as nationalism, Modi and development factors are dominating the discourse, but the caste arithmetic backs Ajit Singh who had lost the last election from his own bastion Baghpat and was pushed to the third spot.
4. Baghpat: Baghpat, also known as the Jat land with around 30% jats, is caught between legacy and faith. While RLD vice president Jayant Chaudhary is the alliance candidate fighting to save the legacy of his grandfather and ex-PM Chaudhury Charan Singh, BJP’s sitting MP and Modi minister Dr Satyapal Singh is depending on his good work of five years, his popularity among all the communities and also Modi factor to sail through yet again.
5. Bijnor: Bijnor seems to be set for a three-cornered contest with all the three candidates depending on the polarisation of votes. However, on the face of it, Congress candidate Nassemuddin Siddiqui, a former aide of BSP chief Mayawati, may decide the outcome. HE may play a spoilsport for alliance candidate Malook Nagar (BSP) by creating a division in Muslim vote bank (over 30 %). Spread across both the sides of Ganges, Bijnor may be having issues galore but BJP has once again reposed faith in its sitting MP Chaudhury Bhartendra Singh, who is depending too much on Modi factor and division of Muslim votes.
6. Meerut: The land of mutiny may pose a tough challenge for the BJP this time. Here the sitting BJP MP Rajendra Agarwal is locked in a direct fight with Congress candidate Harendra Agarwal. However, the alliance candidate Haji Yaqqob Qureshi (BSP), the muscleman and meet exporter, may stand benefitted by the division of votes between both Agarwals.
7. Ghaziabad: As a parliamentary constituency, Ghaziabad came into being in 2009. The real challenge on this eat is for Gen VK Singh who has been repeated here by the BJP. In 2014, Gen Singh was one of those candidates who has won the election with the largest margin. With Dolly Sharma of Congress and former MLA Suresh Bansal (SP) if alliance in the fray, Gen Singh has to salvage his party’s pride cashing in on development, nationalism and Modi factor in a three-cornered fight.
8. Gautam Budh Nagar: Here also a triangular fight is on the cards. While BJP has repeated Dr Mahesh Sharma also a Modi minister, alliance has fielded Satvir Nagar (BSP) and Congress’s Arvind Kumar Singh are in the fray in the VIP NCR constituency. The challenge for the BJP candidate is to repeat 2014 for his party riding on Modi magic and development.