Election 2014: POORVANCHAL Dividing the Spoils

This backward region is likely to be split on polarizing lines between Modi and Mulayam

Farzand Ahmed Lucknow 

Eastern Uttar Pradesh, or Poorvanchal, with 32 Parliamentary seats, is almost equal to neighbouring Bihar in number of seats as well as political importance. Like Bihar, eastern UP will decide how close the BJP comes to forming the government.

The focus on Poorvanchal has accentuated after Narendra Modi chose to contest from Varanasi, and Mulayam Singh Yadav or ‘Netaji’ moved to Azamgarh — an important seat of Islamic learning. Varanasi and Azamgarh are just 90 km apart, on two sides of the Ganga, and the presence of these two polarizing figures is reshaping state politics.  

BJP strategists believe that Modi will have a direct impact on 21 seats, with a ripple effect in 10-12 seats in Bihar. On the other hand, Mulayam’s presence in Azamgarh where his Muslim-Yadav alliance acquires strength, is expected to impact 15 eastern seats and thus stall the Modi juggernaut. Noted social anthropologist Badri Narayan of the Allahabad-based GB Pant Social Science Institute told Hardnews it was Mulayam’s “master-stroke” that would not only upset the BJP’s political calculations but would also strengthen the social combination. “It’s a very good political strategy that would create a new confidence amongst his voters and check his supporters’ exodus towards the saffron party”.

Mulayam is treading on thin ice when it comes to saving his tenuous electoral alliance comprising Muslims with politically aggressive Yadavs. Contesting from Azamgarh gives him an opportunity to achieve this objective and neuter Modi’s agenda of uniting the Backwards to counter the electoral power of the Muslims.

So desperate is the BJP to collect all the Backwards that it has forged an alliance with the Apna Dal, a party of prosperous agriculturalist Kurmis. Kurmis have two lakh votes in Varanasi, while their strength in Mirzapur is supposed to be 2.1 lakh. Kurmis are also in a sizeable number in Kaushambi, Jaunpur and Machlishahr. The Apna Dal’s National General Secretary, Anupriya Patel (daughter of Dal’s founder Sonelal Patel) will contest from Mirzapur. Modi is expected to gain from this alliance if Anupriya is able to transfer the Kurmi votes to him.

In the 2009 elections, SP, BSP and Congress had bagged almost an equal number of seats, between nine and 10, while the BJP was reduced to just four — Gorakhpur, Bansgaon, Varanasi and Azamgarh. This time, the BJP is hoping to win a dozen seats or more.

The cynosure of all eyes would be the city of Varanasi, where an epic battle is taking place between Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Mukhtar Ansari, the don-turned-politician. Congress is yet to announce its candidate, which has left Modi and his supporters confused. For Modi, fighting from a keenly contested constituency is a new experience and his jitters were visible when he dubbed Kejriwal  a “Pakistani agent” and called him “AK-49”. In 2009, Ansari had given BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi a run for his money and had nearly defeated him. Now Joshi has been forced to shift to Kanpur.  

The BJP is facing serious dissension in the region, which is threatening to make it a difficult passage. In Faizabad, Ramvilas Vedanti (party MP in 1996-97 and 1998-99) has given an ultimatum to the BJP high command to either field him or face revolt. Swami Chinmayand, former Union Minister, is also among the leading dissidents as he was denied a ticket from Jaunpur. Former UP assembly Speaker, Kesharinath Tripathi (Allahabad), Surya Pratap Shahi, (former party chief, Deoria) and Omprakash Singh, the party’s OBC face, were all denied tickets. Omprakash wanted a ticket for son Anurag Singh from Mirzapur but the party preferred Apna Dal’s Anupriya. Singh may emerge as the Jaswant Singh of UP. However, the party believes that his influence was confined to Chunar from where he lost the assembly polls in 2012. In Gorakhpur, even Yogi Adityanath, who draws his strength from the Hindu Yuva Vahini, is faced with the Samajwadi Party’s Rajmati Nishad (MLA) and the BSP’s Rambhual Nishad. No electoral battle looks easy despite the supposed Modi wave. As a result, party veteran Kalraj Mishra’s election meetings are being disrupted allegedly by supporters of Omprakash. On the other hand, the defection of Jagdambika Pal (the one-night CM) from the Congress to BJP has shocked everyone. Being described as “Brutus” and ‘biggest defector’ Pal is now contesting from Dumariaganj as a BJP nominee.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2014