LUCKNOW: The eight seats in western UP going to the polls in phase two on Thursday are in areas where the Dalit vote will play a crucial role. With 85 candidates in the fray, the contest in the eight seats of the Braj region seems to be evenly poised with caste calculations backing the prospects of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in at least four seats. The BJP is banking on development, Modi magic and Jat-Lodh-non-Jatav consolidation in its favour. Bollywood star power is also a factor in at least two seats.
However, pertinent regional issues may have their own influence over and above all other factors on the outcome of phase II on April 18.
Notably, all the eight seats—Agra, Aligarh, Amroha, Bulandshahr, Fatehpur Sikri, Hathras, Mathura and Nagina – were won by the BJP under the Modi wave in 2014 with a respectable margin. The scenario may be a little different this time around. With Modi is a relevant factor across the Braj region, the caste calculus will also be in play for an alliance.
In 2009, the saffron party could win just one seat -- Agra -- from this phase. RLD had bagged Mathura, Hathras and Amroha, while SP and BSP shared two each.
With four reserved seats – Agra, Nagina, Bualandshahr, and Hathras –with predominant Dalit population and five of eight seats with over 20% Muslim population, Dalit-Muslim consolidation will be an advantage for the alliance. Nagina has around 60 per cent Dalit-Muslim combined population of the total electorate. In Amroha the combination has over 55% voters and similarly, in Agra and Aligarh, the combined Dalit-Muslim vote share is around 50%.
The phase is most crucial for the BSP as it is contesting on six out of eight seats. SP has just one seat, Hathras. The Congress has fielded candidates for all 8 seats.
On the other hand, the BJP is eyeing Jat-Lodh and non-Jatav dalit consolidation in its favour. Non-Jatav dalits, in fact, make 45 per cent of the dalit population across 8 seats. Even Jats and Lodhs can impact the outcome. While Jats on three seats – Mathura, Aligarh and Fatehpur Sikri – may be a swing factor, Lodhs in Bulandshahr, Agra and Aligarh may turn the tables in favour of a party. Former CM and currently Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh, the Lodh poster boy of the BJP, still has an impact in the region.
Similarly, Mathura and Fatehpur Sikri are set for Bollywood charisma. While ‘dream girl’ Hema Malini is seeking re-election from Mathura, UPCC chief Raj Babbar is testing the poll waters in Fatehpur Sikri. Hema has the double advantage in Mathura with husband Dharmendra standing by her side. Dharmendra will draw the attention of 21 per cent Jats in Mathura.
Moreover, at least five of the eight seats are also part of the sugarcane belt. Farmers' resentment over dues may have some bearing on the voting. Besides, a potato glut has hit farmers who are not getting adequate returns.
Phase-II: At a glance
1. Agra: A reserved seat, it is also known as the Dalit capital of UP. The combined Dalit-Muslim vote share is over 50%. The BJP has been winning this seat since 1991 except in 1999 and 2004 when the SP won it. In 2014, the BJP’s Ramshankar Katheria had won defeating nearest rival Narain Singh Suman of BSP. This time the BJP has replaced Katheria with SP Singh Baghel. It is a triangular contest among BJP’s Baghel, Preeta Harit of Congress and Manoj Kumar Soni of the alliance.
2. Fatehpur Sikri: This seat involves a triangular contest among the BJP, Congress and alliance. The seat had come into existence in 2009 when BSP’s Seema Upadhyay had defeated Congress’s Raj Babbar. In 2014, BJP had bagged the seat as party candidate Chaudhury Babulal had drubbed Seema Upadhyay of BSP. Congress-RLD alliance had fielded Amar Singh in 2014 but he was pushed to fourth position. This time, the BJP has given a ticket to Rajkumar Chahar, Congress has fielded Raj Babbar yet again and BSP has reposed faith in Shri Bhagwan Sharma Guddu Pandit.
3. Hathras: It is poised to be a direct BJP-alliance fight. The seat has been a BJP bastion as the party has been winning it six times in a row except 2009 when RLD had bagged the seat while being in alliance with the BJP. This time around, the seat has fallen in SP’s kitty and the party has fielded Ramji Lal Suman who is depending on the caste calculus of the alliance. The BJP has given a ticket to its Iglas MLA Rajveer Diler who is the son of Kishanlal Diler, four-time party MP from the same seat.
4. Mathura: This seat has an added attraction and a glamour quotient with actor-turned-politician and sitting BJP Hema Malini in the fray for the second time. While the seat belongs to RLD, the SP-BSP alliance partner, the Jat party has fielded Kunwar Narendra Singh, a Thakur by caste. In this seat, Jats, Brahmins and Thakurs are the deciding factors. In 2014, Hema Malini had defeated RLD vice chief Jayant Chaudhury. The Congress has fielded Mahesh Pathak, a Brahmin face. Mathura has given major reverses to many leaders. Once, former PM late Atal Bihari Vajpayee had forfeited his deposit in Mathura. Similarly, Jayant Chaudhury’s grandmother Gayatri Devi had also faced defeat in the land of Krishna.
5. Aligarh: Here the Jat vote bank is the X-factor. The battle in the land of locks and academics is set to be interesting. While the Congress and the alliance have fielded Jat candidates, the BJP has repeated sitting MP Satish Gautam. The BSP has fielded Dr Ajit Balyan while the Congress has given a ticket to Brijendra Singh. Aligarh has over 4.5 lakh Muslims of 18.62 lakh voters while 2.75 lakh are Jats. However, Aligarh has been in the limelight owing to repeated controversies plaguing Aligarh Muslim University. The constituency has around 90,000 young voters.
6. Nagina: It is a reserved constituency which came into existence in 2009. The Dalit-Muslim combination rules the roost with around 60 % presence. However, the contest seems to be triangular with the tacit support of Dalit organisation—Bhim Army – for the Congress. The BJP may capitalise if Dalit and Muslim votes are divided between Congress and alliance candidates. While the BJP has reposed faith in its sitting MP Dr Yashwant, Congress has fielded Omwati Devi and alliance has given a ticket to Girish Chandra.
7. Amroha: The outcome of Amroha will also depend on Dalit-Muslim combination which makes around seven lakh of the total 16 lakh voters. Keeping the caste calculus, the alliance feels it has an edge while the BJP is eyeing Jats and other dalit sub-castes. Famous for its mango products, Amroha was won by the BJP in 2014. This time the party has repeated its sitting MP Chadhury Kanwar Singh Tanwar, BSP has fielded Danish Ali and Congress has given a ticket to Sachin Chaudhury. The fourth corner is being held by Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party –Lohia of rebel SP leader Shivpal Yadav who has fielded a Muslim Matloob Ahmad. Consequently, the Muslim vote may be divided three-way to the advantage of the BJP.
8. Bulandshahr: Also a reserved seat. A BJP bastion but the saffron party faces a challenge to save its citadel. The constituency is dominated by Lodhs, Dalits and Muslims. However, Brahmins, Jats and Thakurs also have a considerable presence. While the BJP has repeated its sitting MP Bhola Singh, the BSP has fielded Yogesh Verma and the Congress has given a ticket to ex-MLA Bansi Pahadia. It seems to be more of a direct contest between the BJP and alliance. While the BJP is banking on upper caste and OBC votes besides PM Modi, the alliance is depending heavily on Dalit-Muslim and traditional Jat and Yadav vote bank of SP and RLD.