BJP hopes for rare Bhumihar-Kshatriya consolidation in Ballia and Ghazipur seats of UP

The ruling party planners in east UP are hoping for a sort of quid pro quo between the two dominant upper castes in the adjoining Ghazipur and Ballia seats.
BJP flag used for representational purpose only.
BJP flag used for representational purpose only.Photo| PTI

VARANASI: For generations, the two dominant upper castes -- the Kshatriyas and the Bhumihar Brahmins -- have been at odds in Purvanchal (eastern Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar.

But as the long-drawn Lok Sabha polls enter their last stretch, the ruling BJP is eyeing to strike a potent combination of the two warring upper castes at least on two key seats of the eight in the Varanasi-Ballia region of eastern UP, which will vote in the last phase on June 1.

The ruling party planners in east UP are hoping for a sort of quid pro quo between the two dominant upper castes in the adjoining Ghazipur and Ballia seats, which house strong and politically crucial pockets of the two castes.

In the Ghazipur LS constituency, out of the 17 polls/by-polls since 1952, it's Thakur (Kshatriya) or Rai Sahab (Bhumihar Brahmin) candidates who have won nine times, while in the neighbouring Ballia seat, out of the 18 elections/by-elections so far, it's the Thakur (Kshatriyas) who have won 14 times, including ex-PM Chandra Shekhar and his son Neeraj Shekhar winning ten times.

While the Ballia Lok Sabha seat (famous nationally as the citadel of eight-time former MP and late PM Chandra Shekhar) has been won twice (2014 and 2019) by the BJP, the adjoining Ghazipur seat saw three-time winner BJP candidate union minister Manoj Sinha (current J&K Lieutenant Governor) lose to gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari's BSP candidate brother Afzal Ansari by 1.19 lakh votes.

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Five years later, the contest is interesting in both the Ballia and Ghazipur seats.

The BJP has fielded its Rajya Sabha member and winner of the 2008 and 2009 elections, Neeraj Shekhar (son of late PM Chandra Shekhar), SP has fielded Sanatan Pandey, who lost by 15,000-plus votes to BJP’s Virendra Singh Mast in the last elections.

Neeraj Shekhar had lost the 2014 polls as a Samajwadi candidate.

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According to a BJP state working committee member hailing from the Bhumihar Brahmin caste in Varanasi, around one lakh Bhumihar Brahmin voters (concentrated mainly in Phephana, Mohammadabad and Zahoorabad assembly segments) are key to BJP's nominee Neeraj Shekhar's winning prospects in a tough battle in five assembly-segment-strong Ballia Lok Sabha constituency.

He feels the Kshatriya caste (which holds a decisive sway in Saidpur-SC, Ghazipur-Sadar and Zamania assembly segments) is of particular importance in improving the position of first-time BJP candidate Paras Nath Rai against 2019 BSP winner Afzal Ansari, who is now in the fray as SP candidate.

"Neeraj Shekhar is a Kshatriya candidate whose legendary father ex-PM Chandra Shekhar won Ballia eight times, not just due to his 1.5 lakh caste voters but due to a rainbow of socialist-minded voters cutting across caste and community lines.

"But with the 2019 loser SP candidate Sanatan Pandey banking heavily on around 35% Brahmin, Yadav and Muslim voters, the BJP candidate desperately needs the support of nine per cent Bhumihar Brahmin voters along with his own 13% Kshatriya voters to keep his winning prospects alive with the help of around 20% non-Yadav OBC, Baniya and SC voters. In a quid pro quo, our party’s Bhumihar Brahmin veteran RSS politician Paras Nath Rai also needs the support of around 2.5 lakh Kshatriya caste voters to keep himself in the battle from the 19.62 lakh voters-strong Ghazipur LS constituency," the BJP leader based in Varanasi said.

As per Vinay Singh, a Ghazipur-based senior journalist, "As of now, the 2004 and 2019 LS polls winner SP candidate Afzal Ansari seems to have a clear edge in the battle for Ghazipur, owing to his optimism of enjoying the support of around 55% voters, which represents the Yadavs (around 4.5 lakh), Muslims (around 2.25 lakh) and a large chunk of the scheduled caste (around 4 lakh).

"If the BJP candidate manages to win the lion's share of 2.5 lakh kshatriya votes, around 50,000 Bhumihar Brahmin votes, non-Yadav OBC votes, a significant chunk of the Rajbhars (due to SBSP head and UP minister Om Prakash Rajbhar) and the Baniya vote, the contest may become close by the time of polling."

But Bhumihar Brahmin-Kshatriya unity is easier said than done.

"Many Bhumihar Brahmins and Thakurs in Ghazipur LS constituency have an old connection with the Ansari family, whose SP candidate son Afzal Ansari is also banking on the sympathy factor generated by his jailbird gangster brother Mukhtar Ansari's death in Banda jail.

"Also, a small portion of Kshatriya voters who are loyal to SP's Zamania MLA and ex-UP minister Om Prakash Singh may prefer voting for the INDI bloc rather than the BJP candidate. Further, the presence of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) student union former general secretary Umesh Singh as BSP nominee further makes the shift of Thakur voters to the BJP a difficult affair," BJP backer Bhumihar Brahmin contractor Mithilesh Rai maintained.

In Ballia, too, the potent combination seems to be easier said than done.

"BJP's Bhumihar Brahmin face and ex-MLA Upendra Tiwari, who twice defeated SP giant and former minister Ambika Chaudhary from Phephana seat, was himself in the race for the BJP ticket from Ballia, which was ultimately given to Neeraj Shekhar, owing to tussle for the ticket between ex-UP minister Anand Swaroop Shukla and 2019 winner Virendra Singh Mast.

"Owing to this, Upendra Tiwari doesn't seem to be working in the desired manner for the BJP nominee. Also, with the Ansari family having a strong influence among Bhumihar Brahmin voters in the Mohammadabad assembly segment, the Bhumihar-Thakur consolidation for Neeraj Shekhar in Ballia seems like a tough task. But the Thakur-Brahmin combination isn’t difficult; had it not happened, the BJP's Bharat Singh and Virendra Singh Mast wouldn't have won in 2014 and 2019," Ballia-based journalist Sarvendra Vikram Singh maintained.

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