Mixed feelings for Gandhis in UP’s rice bowl

Banking on Modi’s popularity, BJP will fight to retain its bastion while SP will try to cash in on absence of Varun Gandhi.
Mixed feelings for Gandhis in UP’s rice bowl

LUCKNOW: Otherwise a non-descript Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh, Pilibhit, rice bowl of the state, is hitting headlines for political reasons. For the first time in his decade-long rule, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the constituency, a bastion of the other half of the Gandhi family—Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun.

Though slogans backing Maneka and Varun are missing from the political landscape of the constituency as the BJP has replaced MP Varun Gandhi with Congress turncoat Jitin Prasada, the stage is set for a fierce fight on the ground. Prasada, a BJP MLC, is now the PWD minister in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet.

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The Samajwadi Party has fielded Bhagwat Saran Gangwar, former minister and a five-term MLA. BSP has fielded Anis Ahmad Khan alias Gulab Babu who was a minister in Mayawati regime. BSP candidate’s presence is set to divide Muslim votes that which would benefit Jitin Prasada, analysts say.

Locals in Pilibhit have mixed feelings on Varun, but air their unanimous support for Modi and Yogi. The Gandhis — Maneka and Varun— have been representing Pilibhit in Lok Sabha since 1989 till 2019 except 1991, when Maneka lost the seat to the BJP.

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After getting a drubbing by Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi in 1984, Maneka chose Pilibhit and made her debut in Lok Sabha by winning the seat as a Janata Dal candidate in 1989. After losing it to the BJP in 1991, Maneka consolidated her position in Pilibhit from 1996 onwards winning it again as JD candidate.

In 1998 and 1999, she won it as independent and from 2004, Pilibhit has been retained by Maneka and Varun alternatively. While in 2004 and 2014, Maneka represented it, in 2009 and 2019, Varun won the seat as a BJP candidate.

The absence of mother and son may hit the BJP as they enjoy an emotional chord with Pilibhit that has a sizeable Sikh community which Maneka comes from.

“Acknowledging that vacuum on the ground, PM took the command keeping his credibility in front to sail through,” says Prof AK Mishra, a political scientist. The voices in Varun’s favour are conspicuous though the MP was absent from the PM’s rally on Monday. People believe that Modi’s popularity will help BJP win the seat, otherwise it would have been a difficult battle for the saffron party in Varun’s absence.

“Modiji is very popular and a towering leader, so BJP will win from here. Had they fielded Varun again, the margin would have been larger,” said Saurabh Maurya, a sweet shop worker.

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In fact, Jitin Prasada, who hails from neighbouring Shahjahanpur district, is being seen as an outsider. Pilibhit is 318 km away from the national capital and almost at the same distance from state capital Lucknow. The LS seat has five assembly segments Baheri, Barkhera, Puranpur, Bisalpur and Pilibhit, of which four are with the BJP and one (Baheri) with SP.

The common refrain on the ground relates to frequent man-animal conflict due to a tiger reserve, flood-related destruction and private sugar mills delaying payments to farmers. area feels

“The INDI Alliance should be given an opportunity but the path is difficult,” said Kalimullah from Neuria. Anil Gangwar of Roopur village, on the other, backs the BJP, saying to address the issues a strong MP is required. The BJP is also relying on the 40,000-strong local Bengali immigrant community that votes for the BJP because of the CAA-NRC issue, say locals.

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