LUCKNOW: As the last electoral battle reaches the bastions of PM Narendra Modi and UP CM Yogi Adityanath, it is turning out to be a conflict of perceptions. While the BJP is trying to flag the contradictions of the gathbandhan by hinting at an alleged tacit understanding between the SP and Congress, keeping BSP chief Mayawati in the dark, the gathbandhan, in turn, rebuffed it with snide remarks against PM Narendra Modi. BSP chief Mayawati’s ‘wife’ jibe at the PM at a joint gathbandhan rally in Gorakhpur on Monday is the latest in the series.
While the PM tried to reach out to crucial Dalits and OBC voters in the east by raising questions about the gathbandhan’s future and longevity, Mayawati exhorted women to vote out Modi claiming he, who could not take care of his wife, was incapable of ensuring women's safety in the country, citing the example of the Alwar gang rape case.
However, the outcome of this perception battle will play a major role in deciding the fate of political players across 13 seats in the last leg of the polls. As the battle is reaching its climax, the SP has fielded candidates in eight of the 13 seats leaving six for ally BSP.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had bagged all 13 seats in the last phase. However, it had lost Gorakhpur to the SP candidate supported by the BSP in the 2018 bypoll. But after the SP-BSP alliance, the data analysis of the 2014 results gives the BJP an edge in eight of the 13 seats while the gathbandhan’s caste arithmetic is coming in handy in the remaining five seats.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and two of his cabinet colleagues—Manoj Sinha and Anupriya Patel, chief of Apna Dal (S) – are in the fray, the significance of the battle of the east can be understood by the fact that to repeat its 2014 performance on these seats, the BJP has dumped five of its 13 sitting MPs. On the other hand, the gathbandhan and Congress have also resorted to experiments in ticket distribution.
A glance at some significant seats of the last phase:
1.Varanasi: The battle of all battles -- Kashi -- will miss a strong candidate like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal against PM Modi who is seeking re-election from the land of Lord Shiva. Giving a virtual walkover to PM Modi, the Congress, after pitching in for party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, repeated many time MLA Ajai Rai. After a flip-flop and the brief entry of sacked BSP jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav in the ring, the SP finalised Shalini Yadav as the alliance candidate. In 2014, PM Modi had won Kashi with a margin of over 3.73 lakh votes drubbing Kejriwal.
2. Mirzapur: Ensconced in the Vindhya range, this land of Goddess Vindhayvasinsi is set for an interesting three-way contest as Union minister and Apna Dal (S) chief Anupriya Patel is seeking re-election from here against Congress’s Laliteshpati Tripathi, grandson of Congress stalwart and former UP CM late Kamalapati Tripathi, and the gathbandhan’s Ramcharitra Nishad. In 2014, Anupriya had defeated Samudra Bind of BSP by over two lakh votes. While the gathbandhan is relying on caste calculus, Anupriya, besides having the huge kurmi vote bank on her side, also has the Modi factor and development as her strengths.
3. Gorakhpur: The land of one of the most revered peeths of eastern UP, Nepal and Bihar, Gorakshnath Muth, the battle of Gorakhpur is an issue of pride and prestige for UP CM Yogi Adityanath who has represented the seat five times in a row in Lok Sabha since 1998. However, the seat was wrested by SP in 2018 by poll after Yogi vacated it following his anointment as UP CM. While the BJP has fielded Bhojpuri star Ravi Kishan in Gorakhpur, the SP has reposed faith in a candidate from Nishad community -- Ram Bhual Nishad. Congress has fielded Madhusudan Tripathi eyeing upper caste votes.
4. Ghazipur: Union minister Manoj Sinha is facing the gathbandhan challenge from BSP’s Afzal Ansari, the sibling of mafia-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, while the Congress is targeting the OBC vote bank by fielding Ajit Pratap Kushwaha. The BJP’s Manoj Sinha won this seat by a thin margin of over 32,000 votes against SP’s Shivkanya Kushwaha in the 2014 election.
5. Kushinagar: The BJP has replaced its sitting MP Rajesh Pandey with Vijay Dubey in this land of Lord Budhha. The Congress has reposed faith in Kunwar RPN Singh who was the runner up in 2014, losing by a margin of over 85,000 votes. Singh had won the seat in 2009. The fight here has become triangular as the gathbandhan has fielded a prominent backward face Nathuni Prasad Kushwaha who will eat into the backward, dalit and Muslim vote bank.
6. Chandauli: Adjacent to Varanasi, Chanduali is faced with an interesting triangular contest. While the BJP’s state chief Mahendra Nath Pandey is seeking re-election here, he is facing a challenge from the gathbandhan’s Sanjay Chauhan, a new face, and the Congress’s Shivkanya Kushwaha who had contested the last election from Ghazipur on an SP ticket.
7. Deoria: BJP has not repeated sitting MP and senior party leader Kalraj Mishra who had expressed unwillingness to contest. Mishra has been replaced by the party’s former state chief Ramapathi Ram Tripathi whose son and party MP Sharad Tripathi had hogged the limelight after beating his party MLA with a shoe in Sant Kabir Nagar. The BSP, which was the runner-up in the last election, has fielded Vinod Jaiswal while the Congress has fielded the defeated BSP candidate Niyaz Ahmad who is set to divide the alliance’s Muslim votes.
8. Ghosi: It is set for an interesting contest as the BJP had initially kept it safe for ally Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) of OP Rajbhar. But since Rajbhar parted ways with the BJP, the party fielded sitting MP Harinarayan Rajbhar who had defeated the BSP’s Dara Singh Chauhan in the previous election. Now Chauhan is a minister in the Yogi cabinet. The gathbandhan has fielded Atul Rai against the BJP candidate. The Congress has made the election interesting by fielding former MP Lal Krishna Chauhan.