PHULPUR (UP): Hindutva, national security, unemployment, agrarian distress — they might all be among the several issues that impact the polls in Phulpur Lok Sabha seat in eastern Uttar Pradesh but it’s caste polarisation that will ultimately determine the final outcome.
Phulpur, situated along the bank of river Ganga, adjacent to Prayagraj, has the distinction of being the constituency of the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who won the seat in the first general election in 1952 and was re-elected in 1957 and 1962.
A visit to some of the villages across the constituency disclosed how caste equations have made all other issues irrelevant in this general election. People may talk about the welfare schemes of the current government such as Swachh Bharat and Ujjawala, but when it comes to voting, caste overshadows all other factors.
At a roadside dhaba in Babuganj area of the constituency, a heated chunavi charcha (poll debate) is on among Kaushlendra Singh Yadav and his friends. “Here, only caste rules. People vote generally on the basis of caste in this area. There’s hardly any issue,” says Yadav.
His friend Himanshu is somewhat critical of the Central government. “It’s true that this government acted promptly in the case of Pulwama attack, but on what basis is it claiming about the numbers of terrorists killed in the Balakot airstrike? And, Nirav Modi is yet to reach India,” he says, smiling at his friends.
Priyanshu Singh quickly counters him saying, “At least, people like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi will be brought to the country to face legal action. Earlier, many scams and scamsters used to go unnoticed and unpunished.”
The importance of the caste factor is also reflected in the selection of candidates by the political parties in the fight. For last several terms, the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat had been a preserve of the Samajwadi Party, with the only exception of 2014 polls when BJP candidate Keshav Prasad Maurya won the seat in the Modi wave. However, after Maurya became a member of the UP legislative council and was made a deputy chief minister in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet following the 2017 Assembly poll victory, the BJP lost the seat to SP candidate Nagendra Singh Patel in the 2018 bypoll.
However, this time, the seat which is dominated by Patels (Kurmis), is set to see a tough fight as the BJP has strategically chosen a candidate from the community. The party has fielded Kesari Devi Patel who will be taking on SP’s Pandhari Yadav.
While the Patels dominate, Yadav, Muslim and Dalit voters are also in sizeable numbers and play a deciding role. The BJP’s Patel candidate is appearing a bit stronger, though she will have to contend with a Yadav, Muslim and Dalit polarisation due to the Mahagathbandhan and the impact of a recent joint rally by BSP supremo Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav.
Talking about the prospects of the two candidates, Ram Awadh Yadav, a farmer in Simri village, says, “The Samajwadi Party should have given ticket to a Kurmi candidate, then it would have been a clear win for the party. This time most of the Patel votes could go to BJP candidate while Yadavs and Muslims will vote for the SP. It is not going to be easy for the SP this time.”