Uttar Pradesh polls: SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar faces stiff challenge from BJP, BSP on home turf

SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar is facing a stern challenge in this eastern Uttar Pradesh Assembly constituency as he squares off against BSP and BJP.
Former Uttar Pradesh Minister and SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar (Photo | PTI)
Former Uttar Pradesh Minister and SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar (Photo | PTI)

ZAHOORABAD: SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar is facing a stern challenge in this eastern Uttar Pradesh assembly constituency as he squares off against Saiyyada Shadab Fatima of the BSP and BJP's Kalicharan Rajbhar in a triangular contest which many people here believe could go right down to the wire.

What makes the contest interesting is that the three candidates are sort of veterans in this assembly segment in Ghazipur district but their political affiliations have changed this time.

While sitting MLA and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) chief Prakash Rajbhar, who was a BJP ally in 2017, has now joined hands with the Samajwadi Party, Fatima, who had been a Samajwadi Party minister in the state, is now a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate.

Kalicharan Rajbhar, who has been a two-time BSP MLA, is in the fray this time from the BJP.

If Rajbhar versus Rajbhar was tricky enough, Fatima's entry has made the contest even more interesting, setting up a triangular contest amid a slew of bipolar fights between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the BJP in this region.

Fatima seems to be no pushover as she is hailed by people of the constituency, cutting across communities, as someone who carried out a lot of development works when she won in 2012 and became a minister in the SP government.

She had joined Shivpal Yadav's breakaway faction Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party but with he reconciling with his nephew Akhilesh Yadav, she was unable to bag a ticket from here as the SBSP tied up with the SP.

She even contemplated fighting Independent but finally sealed the BSP ticket to return to the electoral fray after skipping the 2017 polls.

The three candidates seem to be confident of their chances citing their traditional vote bases but do know that it is not as straightforward as it seems with the possibility of last minute switches in loyalties and split in vote banks looming.

"The picture is very clear, these two (Kalicharan and Om Prakash) are contesting on caste. I am getting votes from all communities. It is not limited to BSP's traditional vote base of Dalits, or minorities. I am getting votes from Thakurs, Chouhans, Bhumiars, Kushwahas, among others," Fatima told PTI.

"So, there is no fight. I am winning and the fight is for who will come second and third," she said.

Fatima slammed Prakash Rajbhar for saying that the BSP was doing the BJP's bidding, saying he himself was elected to the assembly for the first time with the help of the BJP.

"I did not contest in 2017. I have not lost an election while these two have lost elections in the past and that too against me. So nothing new will happen but history of 2012 will be repeated when these two lost to me" she said.

Fatima said Zahoorabad was a model constituency as people here give precedence to development over caste and that reflects in the results.

Kalicharan Rajbhar also expressed confidence in his victory, saying both his rivals had been rejected by the people and Prakash Rajbhar was facing tremendous anti-incumbency.

"All round development and making this an ideal constituency is my aim," he told PTI.

Kalicharan Rajbhar, during his campaign, highlights that his rival Prakash Rajbhar "cannot be loyal to anyone" as he had even "ditched" a party like the BJP to switch to the side of the SP.

"After winning the polls, he did not come to the constituency to share the people's sorrows and happiness on various occasions," said Kalicharan Rajbhar, who is likely to split the substantial Rajbhar vote.

Arun Rajbhar, SBSP general secretary and Prakash Rajbhar's younger son who is handling the campaign here, like Fatima, claimed that the fight was for second and third and that his father would get more votes than his two rivals combined.

"She (Fatima) had won in 2012 during the wave for the SP in the state. The BJP is creating a buzz that she is in the contest but the reality is that she should fight to save her deposit," Arun Rajbhar told PTI.

He also dismissed the suggestion that there will be a split in the Rajbhar vote, saying 95 per cent from the community would vote for his father.

However, people of the constituency believe that it is a close election.

Papita Ram, at a tea shop, says he is backing Fatima because of the development work she did.

"Every person is says their party is winning but it is a tight election and only March 10 would decide the winner," he told PTI.

Another person, Om Prakash, selling jalebis, said he is backing BJP's Kalicharan Rajbhar but acknowledged that the development work in the constituency was done by Fatima during her tenure.

He also said that the margin of victory for any candidate is likely to be "wafer thin".

That the contest is close also manifested itself at a snack joint here where supporters of the SP, the BSP and the BJP had congregated.

They claimed that their respective party was in the ascendancy and gave reasons for it.

While they disagreed on most things about the poll scenario, they seemed to agree on one thing that the race was tight and the last few days of the campaign would be crucial.

In Zahoorabad, Dalit voters number around 70,000, Rajbhars around 70,000, Muslims around 28,000 and Yadavs around 45,000, according to estimates.

Then, there is a sizable number of Chouhan voters, and Rajput, Brahmin and Vaishya voters.

Another significant feature here is that many people voiced support for the candidate not belonging to their caste, making it difficult to predict a clear winner.

This seat will go to polls in the seventh and final phase of the assembly elections on March 7.

The results will be declared on March 10.

To use a sports analogy, it could be anybody's game here.

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