Phase-7 of UP Polls 2022: Battle lines drawn between Modi’s Kashi, Akhilesh’s Azamgarh
In the last leg, the battle is likely to get fiercest with the pride of Varanasi, the Modi bastion and Azamgarh, the stronghold of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, at stake.
VARANASI: As the poll juggernaut enters the seventh gate of UP proverbial ‘Chakrvyuh’ comprising nine districts of Purvanchal to witness the final assault on Monday, March 7, the stage is set with the Modi-Yogi combination ready to save the fort for the BJP on one side and Akhilesh Yadav, leading the Samajwadi Party from the front, on the other. Also, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s Congress are out to prove they are no pushovers.
In the last leg, the battle is likely to get fiercest with the pride of Varanasi, the Modi bastion and Azamgarh, the stronghold of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, at stake.
Moreover, the fight is believed to be straight between the BJP and SP on maximum seats barring a few where the BSP is posing a challenge to the main players.
Around 613 candidates are in the fray spread across nine districts comprising Varanasi, Chandauli, Jaunpur, Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Mau, Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Sonbhadra, in the final phase of the 7-phased UP polls.
In the last phase, if ruling BJP has the tough task of sustaining its dominance besides making forays into so far unexplored territories, the main opposition, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav faces the challenge of not only defending his stronghold in Azamgarh but also expanding its influence across the region. In a way, both BJP and SP will depend on their respective allies’ performance to sail through in this region.
Of the 54 constituencies that go to polls on Monday, 11 seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and two for Scheduled Tribes which fall in Sonbhadra.
In the 2017 assembly elections, 29 of these 54 seats were won by the BJP and seven by its allies-- Apna Dal (S) and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP). The SP was victorious on 11 seats and six had gone to BSP. NISHAD had won one seat of Gyanpur in Bhadohi. Congress had failed to open an account in this phase in 2017.
However, this time the SBSP is contesting as SP ally with its influence over Rajbhar voters across a dozen and a half seats in Ghazipur, Mau, Varanasi, Chanduali and pockets in Mirzapur.
Of the 11 reserved seats, BJP had won seven, SP three, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had won one seat. However, both the ST seats had gone to the BJP and its ally Apna al (S) in 2017.
In the last phase of the battle, BJP is depending on the charisma of PM Narendra Modi as the sole influencer in the region. Taking the command of the BJP campaign in his hands, PM Modi camped in Varanasi, his parliamentary constituency, for 29 hours to make the equations favourable for the BJP as its sitting MLAs had been facing strong anti-incumbency not only in Varanasi but in adjoining districts as well.
It is believed that Modi’s presence in Varanasi on poll eve might have turned the situation in BJP's favour owing to PM’s popularity and his mass connect.
Besides, the BJP has also been pinning its hopes on the beneficiaries of the welfare schemes and the women voters among whom the law and order issue is seen to have a clear resonance.
2017 outstanding performance of the BJP in the region was well supported by allies -- Apna Dal (S) and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP). They had played a big role in ensuring BJP’s expansion in this belt through the support of Kurmi and the Rajbhars.
The Nishad party, which had contested independently in 2017 had won one seat. This outfit representing the boatmen community present in considerable chunks across the eastern UP is now with the BJP and has three candidates in the seventh phase.
On the other, SBSP, in alliance with the SP, is set to benefit the main opposition party in its final assault. SBSP, led by OP Rajbhar, is contesting on 17 seats across the state of which eight are at stake in the final phase. The SP leadership is depending upon the Rajbhar vote to combine with the strong presence of Yadav-OBC in this region to get an edge over the BJP.
SP may also poach upon BJP’s Kurmi vote bank which had shifted to it in 2017 after its alliance with Apna Dal (S) led by Anupriya Patel, younger daughter of a tall Kurmi leader of the region Sonelal Patel. This time, Akhilesh Yadav has made the other faction -- Apna Dal (K) -- led by Anupriya’s mother Krishna Patel, part of his rainbow alliance.
While Apna Dal (S) is contesting four seats, the other faction is contesting five seats in alliance with the SP in the final phase.
Moreover, with renovated and revamped Kashi Vishwanath Dham and the upcoming Ram temple in Ayodhya, BJP will also hope to capitalise on the Hindutva factor beyond the caste fault lines in the last phase. PM Modi, during his stay in Varanasi on March 4 and 5, gave a push to the narrative of Hindutva through his gestures without even speaking a single word over it in his discourse.
In Jaunpur, Ghazipur and Chanduli, which also fall in the Varanasi division, the BJP had got partial success despite the sweeping saffron wave in 2017. It had won four of the nine Jaunpur seats, three of the seven Ghazipur seats and four of the five Chanduli seats. SP had won three seats in Jaunpur, two in Ghazipur and one in Chandauli.
In Azamgarh, which has the dominant Muslim-Yadav factor, BJP could bag just one of 10 assembly segments in 2017 election. Azamgarh has been one of the strongest fortress of the SP which had won five of the 10 constituencies in 2017. Four had gone to the BSP. In 2012, the BJP was nowhere in the scene. The SP had then won nine and BSP one in Azamgarh.
In neighbouring Mau, the bastion of mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari who is the sitting MLA and currently in jail, eyes will set on his son Abbas Ansari who is contesting on SBSP ticket from Mau Sadar.
The SP hopes that along with Rajbhar factor and Ansaris’ clout, Mau will be regained. In 2017, the BJP had won three of the four seats in the district.
Total Seats - 54; Total districts- 09; Total candidates- 613; Total electorate- 2.05 crore; Total Districts-10: Varanasi, Chandauli, Jaunpur, Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Mau, Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Sonbhadra
Varanasi: 09: BJP: 07; Apna Dal (S): 01; SBSP: 01
Chandauli: 04: BJP: 03; SP: 01
Jaunpur: 09: BJP: 04; Apna Dal (S): 01; SP: 03: BSP: 01
Azamgarh: 10: BJP: 01; SP: 05; BSP: 04
Ghazipur: 07: BJP: 03; SBSP: 02; SP: 02
Mau: 04: BJP: 03; BSP: 01
Mirzapur: 05: BJP: 04; AD(S): 01
Bhadohi: 03: BJP: 02; NISAHD: 01
Sonbhadra: 04: BJP: 03; Apna Dal(S): 01