KANNAUJ: It could be an exaggeration but Kannauj is known in these parts as the Paris of Asia —not for its infra, but its perfume. Cross the Lakhan gate into town and the invigorating smell of rose petals wafts into the nostrils.
The imperial glory of Kannauj under emperor Harsha Vardhan is long gone; today the all intrusive city life hits one on the face, almost immediately. However, the usual hustle and bustle of a poll season is nowhere to be seen even in the bylanes, which hoard ‘attar’ bottles.
Yet, that Kannauj is at the epicentre of UP politics is clear from the fact that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s daughter in law Dimple is in the fray in the Socialist bastion, where party ideologue Ram Manohar Lohia won an election in 1967.
Like in 2014, it’s a straight fight between SP’s Dimple Yadav and BJP’s Subrat Pathak who lost last time narrowly by 19,000 votes.
By logic, with support from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Congress deciding not to field a candidate, Dimple should have an easy run. But the ground realities are different.
Caste dynamics are a major factor in the constituency, which has elected both SP patriarch Mulayam and his son Akhilesh Yadav to Parliament earlier. Additionally, Kannauj has been an SP bastion since 1999, with the Yadav, Muslim and Dalit support base further bolstering the party cushion this time.
Dimple’s rival Pathak rides on his personal popularity, besides the ‘Modi factor’ — which is evident in both the rural and urban segments.
Farmers of Tirwa — Anuj, 35 and Bansi, 39 — feel that though stray animals are giving them sleepless nights, it’s an issue for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to handle, not the PM.
“We want to give Modi a second chance,” they say in unison. Yet, there are issues which come to the fore during discussions. The recession-hit perfume industry, a potato glut and unemployment, being the major ones.
Kannauj has over 200 small, medium and large manufacturing units of perfume. Traders, who export ‘Attar’ worth Rs 100 crore annually, claim that the trade could not soar owing to government apathy.
“We don’t want loans, but facilities,” says Pawan Trivedi, secretary of the Attar and Perfumers Association.
Non-availability of raw materials and a lack of support from an administration led the likes of Ram Sanehi to close down units in 2015.
But despite all hardships, Nishish Tiwari, a perfume trader in the city, finds the ensuing battle in the constituency tightly poised between the BJP and the mahagthbandhan.
“On one hand, Modiji is popular, on the other, the SP has to save its bastion,” he says.
What do voters want? The question is mostly met with a cautious silence. No one speaks of support to one or the other party but Deshdeepak, 27, of Makrand Nagar, a suburb of Kannauj, feels cheated.
“Everyone promises jobs but no one delivers”.
Joining the conversation, trader Rajnarain Gupta says: “The election is for the country and not for
Kannauj. Only this government has the courage to hit at terrorism.”
However, pitching for the mahagathbandhan, Ratan Lal a contract farmer says: “the Mahagathbandhan is putting up a good fight. Akhilesh has done a lot. He has ensured that this region gets uninterrupted power supply. For us that is a big relief.”
Jalalabad, some 20 km away from Kannauj city, has a population of around 1200, most of whom are potato growers. Kush Har, who owns six bighas of land, has his own woes to relate.
“The government has announced that it will purchase our potato stocks. But they grade it before we can sell it, which hardly helps retrieve the input cost. We don’t want to sell to the government”.
The issue of paucity of cold storage units to store the produce also comes up. In case of a glut, farmers are forced to leave the produce in the open.
However, non-availability of the sitting MP is a common refrain, which goes against Dimple.
“The BJP has done good work and will reap benefits. They have fielded a local candidate who is available. He may have lost the previous election but is putting up a good fight this time,” says Mukesh Tiwari, 38, a dhaba owner.
Anurag Arora, vice president, UP Cold Storage Association, aptly summarised the dilemma of the Kannauj voter.
“Nearly 80% people of Kannauj are either dependent on the Attar business or are farmers. The electoral battle here is evenly poised because on one side, the SP has done good work here, on the other BJP’s Subrat Pathak is popular”.
While caste arithmetic favours Dimple, young voters and the chemistry seem to favour the BJP candidate.