Will traditionally marginalized castes Rajbhar and Noniya serve as 'sankat mochaks' for BJP in Varanasi-Mirzapur-Ballia region on June 1?

The possibility of consolidation of the strong most backward class, Rajbhar and Noniya voters, have rekindled hopes of BJP candidates in the region.
Image used for representation.
Image used for representation.Center-Center-Bangalore

VARANASI: As the final phase of Lok Sabha polls looms over the Varanasi-Mirzapur-Ballia region of eastern Uttar Pradesh, a pivotal question grips the political landscape: Will the traditionally marginalized labourer castes -Rajbhar and Noniya (Chauhan), emerge as the BJP's Sankat Mochaks (crisis alleviators) on the eight crucial seats of the region? This question isn't merely a matter of speculation among BJP planners and local cadres; it's a theme that resonates across the rival INDIA bloc camp as well.

The possibility of consolidation of the strong most backward class, Rajbhar and Noniya voters, have rekindled hopes of BJP candidates, particularly on Chandauli, Ghazipur, Ballia and Salempur seats – which till a week ago were seemed to be drifting towards the SP-Congress INDIA bloc.

The possible support by these two caste groups – who generally earn their living by working as agricultural and construction sector labourers – has particularly raised the hopes of Union Minister Mahendra Nath Pandey who is facing a tough battle against ex-UP minister and INDIA bloc candidate Virendra Singh in Chandauli. Making the battle triangular is BSP's Satyendra Maurya, a member of the Maurya OBC caste. The constituency was previously dominated by BJP politician Anand Ratan Maurya, who secured victory on four occasions in the past.

Eyeing a hat-trick win from the seat which is also defence minister Rajnath Singh’s home constituency, Pandey is already facing rising anti-incumbency and opposition from the powerful Thakur caste voters. Pandey won the seat in 2019 by a mere margin of 13,000-plus votes against the then BSP-SP alliance candidate Sanjay Singh Chauhan, who is now with the BJP.

It's Chauhan’s entry into the BJP camp and subsequent hard work by him for the saffron party not just on Chandauli seat, but also in the adjoining Ghazipur seat, which has improved the ruling party candidates – Mahendra Nath Pandey and Paras Nath Rai – on the both the adjoining seats of Varanasi region.

“PM Modi addressed a rally in Ghazipur recently and a major portion of the crowd at the rally were brought by UP minister Om Prakash Rajbhar’s SBSP and the new BJP entrant Sanjay Chauhan. This speaks volumes about their base in the two most backward castes. If this crowd actually turns into votes on June 1, then the battle in Chandauli may well tilt in Pandey’s favour and the Ghazipur contest may see Rai make a comeback against sitting MP Afzal Ansari on June 1,” Varanasi-based journalist Pawan Singh claimed.

Ghazipur-based political analyst Rajkamal Rai concurs with Singh. “Union home minister Amit Shah’s roadshow in Ghazipur was historic on Wednesday. As the reports from the ground suggest then the recent attacks by some powerful Yadavs on non-Yadav caste voters in the district may lead to the smaller OBC castes like Kushwahas and Mauryas returning to their old party BJP. Adding to them will be 1.10 lakh strong Rajbhar votes and around 25,000 Noniya voters, which will prove crucial in case of a close battle between Rai and Ansari. Even Ansari’s strategy of continuing his daughter Nusrat as independent in poll fray on a symbol to OP Rajbhar’s party poll symbol doesn’t seem to be paying off and the battle is becoming very tight. If the BJP manages to get its voters to the polling booth despite atrocious heat, the result could go either way in Ghazipur.”

The support of Rajbhars (who form 15% of total voters) is also crucial on Salempur seat, where the two-time sitting BJP MP Ravindra Kushwaha is eyeing hat-trick against ex-MP Ramashankar Rajbhar on SP ticket.

In the adjoining Ghosi seat the NDA candidate Arvind Rajbhar (son of UP minister and SBSP chief OP Rajbhar) who seemed to have fallen behind in the contest (when the SP declared Rajiv Rai, who is a Bhumihar Brahmin as their candidate) has managed to make his way back into the battle particularly after his UP minister father under the guidance of Union Home Minister Amit Shah (who has been camping in Varanasi since last 5-6 days) got two powerful upper caste leaders, ex-minister Narad Rai and ex-MLA Ram Iqbal Singh to leave the SP and join the BJP. Both these leaders hold strong influence among their Bhumihar and Thakur caste voters in Ghosi as well as Ballia seats.

Further, with the BSP’s Noniya caste candidate Balkrishna Chauhan gaining ground possibly at the cost of the SP candidate, the contest is becoming triangular in Ghosi and may even swing in BJP’s favour, if the most backward caste voters consolidate in the SBSP candidate’s support, while the Pasmanda Muslim voters (who form around 40% of Muslim vote) either stay neutral or even vote for the SBSP candidate like the 2019 polls.

“It was the SBSP loyal Rajbhar voter who played an important role in BJP winning Ghosi and Ballia seats by big margin in 2014. While BJP lost Ghosi, the margin fell to just 15,000-plus votes from the 2014 victory margin of 1.39 lakh votes, largely because OP Rajbhar’s ties with BJP had strained by then. Now Rajbhar’s return to the NDA may clinch the battle in BJP’s favour in Ballia particularly,” Mau-based journalist Rahul Singh claimed.

“A recent video of a poll rally showing PM Modi rendering a friendly punch on NDA candidate Arvind Rajbhar’s back is an apt indicator of the BJP’s top leadership realizing the role Rajbhar caste may play in helping the NDA’s cause in closely contested seats of the region,” Singh said.

The sudden change in the situation on ground on the seats of Varanasi-Mirzapur-Ballia region is even acknowledged by an SP leader in Ghazipur. “The situation has certainly changed particularly after PM Modi started addressing rallies and Amit Shah started his politics of engineering political switchovers. But still SP-Congress alliance has an upper hand, particularly on Ghazipur, Ballia, Ghosi and Salempur seats, despite the possibility of Rajbhars and Noniyas rallying behind the BJP and SBSP.”

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