BARABANKI (UP): “Wahi Rab wahi Ram” (God is one). The words carry a special meaning in this land of opium and mint — Barabanki, the constituency whose physical boundaries seamlessly melt and amalgamate with the ‘City of Nawabs’ (Lucknow) and its Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (culture) just 30 km away.
If Barbanki is the land of Sufi Saint Haji Waris Ali Shah whose revered shrine, Dewa Sharif, draws devotees transcending religious barriers, it is also the land of Lord Shiva. A pilgrimage for lakhs of ‘kanwariyas’, the Lodheshwar Mahadev temple is repository of one of the rarest of 52 Shivalings found at 12 Shakti Peeths.
These days, Barabanki finds itself trapped between the intensely hot gusts of wind that sweep the expansive Gangetic plains and rising political temperatures as it gears up to vote on May 6.The Sufi traditions of the city, however, refuse to allow any one political flavour to dominate, making the polls much more complex.
Barabanki has never been a stronghold of any particular party. In three decades, it has picked MPs from different parties barring once, when the Samajwadi Party won the seat twice in a row — 1991 and 1996.
With six assembly segments --- Kursi, Ramnagar, Barabanki, Zaidpur, Haidergarh and Dariyabad — of which five are with the BJP, the Barabanki Lok Sabha seat was swayed by the saffron wave in 2014 when the BJP’s Priyanka Rawat defeated Congress heavyweight P L Punia by 2 lakh-plus votes.
However, the ruling party faces a simmering discontent after the sitting MP was replaced with Zaidpur MLA Upendra Singh Rawat. The Congress has fielded Punia’s son Tanuj while the SP has reposed faith in Ram Sagar Rawat in the constituency dominated by Dalits, Kurmis and Muslims. He has represented Barabanki four times — 1989, 1991, 1996, and 1999 — thrice for the SP and once for the Janata Dal.
At a juice corner in Zaidpur Assembl segment, Shubhanshu Pandey, a BA student of Lucknow University, backed the Modi-Yogi combination. “Yogi has worked to bring Modi’s welfare schemes on the ground and people have benefitted from Central schemes,” he says. Asked why he won’t vote for an Opposition party candidate, Shubhanshu says his parents, too, were against them. Owner of the juice shop, Mohammad Shafi, pitches in saying, “Modi will get votes for responding to Pakistan”.
At the Safdarganj Agriculture Production Mandi, there is no rush of farmers though its crop sale time. Satish Kumar Verma, owner of 50 bighas of land in Kewalpur village, says he will vote for the BJP because he wants to see Modi as PM again. Though he praises the work of former CM Akhilesh Yadav, too, but says “this is an election to choose the PM and who but Modi for the job!”.
At sundown, even as the district court is winding up for the day, advocate Nawal Kishore Gupta, 45, is still at work. “The BJP has taken the right step by replacing the sitting MP, otherwise the party would have been out of the contest,” he says, sipping tea.
The majority of advocates present on the premises feel Barabanki will witness a direct fight between the BJP and alliance as the SP candidate is strong and has the backing of party stalwart and Kurmi leader Beni Prasad Verma. However, young paan seller Pramod Chaurasia feels Tanuj Punia’s chances are equally strong owing to his father’s legacy. “Tanuj is an educated and decent candidate. Gathbandhan’s Ram Sagar Rawat, too, has a fair chance but the BJP is nowhere in the contest,” says Pramod, adding, “That’s the feeling I get from a majority of my customers.”
In the Haidergarh Assembly segment, medical practitioner Dr Sanjeev Kumar of Majhiyawan places his bet on the alliance candidate as the caste arithmetic works in his favour, but trader Sushil Verma calls it a direct Congress-Gathbandhan fight. Mohd Subrati went nostalgic saying P L Punia used to meet local people after he won in 2009. “I will vote for his son Tanuj,” he says.
In Sadullahpur market, people are all praise for Upendra Rawat. “He is polite and easily accessible. He will get votes in the name of Modi, besides his own popularity,” said Archana Pandey, a bank employee. But a majority in Dewa Sharif believes it’s a triangular fight.