Keeping up with UP | The political wind blowing over eastern Uttar Pradesh could be a critical factor in 2024 LS polls - Hindustan Times
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Keeping up with UP | The political wind blowing over eastern Uttar Pradesh could be a critical factor in 2024 LS polls

BySunita Aron
May 25, 2024 09:30 AM IST

The 24 districts of the region are culturally, linguistically and socially connected, and move as a bloc politically, sometimes against the trend in the country

Eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) was about to go to polls during the 2022 Assembly elections when chief minister Yogi Adityanath said “He was proud to be a Rajput” in an interview with the Hindustan Times.

Polling parties leave for their assigned poll stations in Allahabad and Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies on Friday (HT)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
Polling parties leave for their assigned poll stations in Allahabad and Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies on Friday (HT)(HT_PRINT)

Adityanath, who is known for weighing every word he speaks on politics, had made the statement to assuage the simmering anger among the Rajputs who were feeling marginalised and disgruntled after the distribution of election tickets by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the polls.

The statement was well-timed as eastern UP, because of its somewhat cohesive political temperament, has often played a critical role in making or marring the future of political parties and Adityanath had succeeded in turning the tables on the opposition, riding high on the anti-incumbency factor in the state.

Cut to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. A similar wave of anger reverberated through western Uttar Pradesh in the first two phases of the seven-phase polling in the state, and this time the Rajput threat of denouncing the BJP was loud enough to be heard in Delhi.

By the time the elections entered the crucial eastern UP, the Rajput community either fell silent or was, seemingly, managed by the BJP’s leadership. The meetings of the Union home minister Amit Shah with Srikala Reddy, wife of former Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP from Jaunpur, Dhananjay Singh, and founder president of Jansatta Dal and MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya of Pratapgarh were politically significant in this context.

While Dhananjay Singh’s role in elections is confined to Jaunpur, Raja Bhaiya wields considerable influence among Rajput leaders and voters cutting across party lines besides in pockets of eastern UP.

Sanjay Singh, who won from Amethi in the 1998 election and Sultanpur in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, was conspicuously absent from campaigning for Union minister Smriti Irani, who faced stiff competition from Kishori Lal Sharma of the Congress. Similarly, MLA Aditi Singh, daughter of yet another Rajput leader, the late Akhilesh Singh, who represented the Rae Bareli assembly seat from 1993-2017, also refused to campaign for the BJP candidate Dinesh Pratap Singh fighting against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli.

Was there a pattern in their silence or opposition to the BJP? However, as the election moves further into eastern UP, there seems to be no visible anger within the Rajput community as of now.

Why is eastern UP so crucial for both the BJP and the alliance?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Adityanath represent the Varanasi and Gorakhpur regions of eastern UP. As for the opposition, the late national president of the Samajwadi Party (SP) Mulayam Singh Yadav represented Azamgarh.

The region has been a fertile ground for several political and social movements including the socialist movement, student movements, movements by farmers, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and movements to empower Dalits and the backward classes.

Six of nine Indian prime ministers have been from eastern UP, which has also produced leaders of mettle -- Ram Manohar Lohia, who set up the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha in the 1960s, Kamlapati Tripathi, often described as Congress’ key strategist of the time, Sarju Pandey, freedom fighter and Communist Party of India leader, Janeshwar Mishra, socialist leader, Chandrajeet Yadav and farmer leader Genda Babu just to name a few.

At present, the region is crucial for the BJP’s target of winning 75 of the state’s 80 seats. Of the 32 seats in eastern UP, the BJP had won 28 in 2014 and 24 in the 2019 elections. The SP had won one each in the previous two elections while the BSP had failed to open its account in 2014 while the alliance with the SP had helped the party win five seats in 2019.

But in the 2009 elections, while the BJP had won only 3 seats, it was the BSP, Congress and SP that had won a larger share of 11 and nine each; it was the year when Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won his second term.

Thus, the region by and large votes uniformly, and this perhaps has given rise to the belief that the road to power in Delhi goes via Poorvanchal in UP.

Expert talk

Professor Kaushal Kishore Mishra, who taught political science at Benaras Hindu University (BHU) for 35 years, explained: “East is a centre for intellectuals with BHU and Allahabad University producing talent in every field, including politics. And though it’s a backward region, people are politically conscious and thus have played a pivotal role in the formation of the government at the Centre since the very first election after Independence.”

Mishra said the 24 districts of the region are culturally, linguistically and socially connected, and move as a bloc politically, sometimes against the trend in the country. When Mandal had ignited countrywide protests, Poorvanchal became the Ram Janmabhoomi movement’s nerve centre, neutralising its impact in the region. One can find data to prove that the maximum bricks for the temple foundation or funds for its construction went from Poorvanchal.”

“So when, Lohia used to visit BHU, he automatically influenced Gorakhpur, the other faraway region of the East; when Modi had tea at a ‘dhabha’ in Kashi, where people from all over eastern UP assemble and discuss politics, the scenario changed in the entire belt in the 2022 assembly elections. Why do you think PM Modi had a road show in the evening.? The impact is huge as people assemble at crossings, discuss and send messages home.”

Satish Rai, a political analyst who closely worked with Kamlapati Tripathi, said elections have changed into events in the city which once saw the low-profile contest between Kamlapati Tripathi, seen as a kingmaker, and Raj Narain, who had defeated PM Indira Gandhi.

Today, the leaders display so much animosity for each other, Rai said and recalled “…an impromptu meeting of Kamlapati Tripathi and Raj Narain during elections. After normal courtesies, Raj Narain demanded 200 for breakfast and 200 for fuel, which Tripathi gave.”

Now associated with Ajay Rai, the Congress state president contesting against Modi from Varanasi, Satish Rai said the party campaign will revolve around Gujarat vs Varanasi as the prime minister has given all construction work and contracts and prime positions in jobs to Gujratis while the people of Varanasi are struggling for employment.

The importance of Allahabad, which is now Prayagraj

Prayagraj has been the nerve centre of politics since the days of the freedom movement and several graduates of Allahabad University later became prominent leaders and bureaucrats.

India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru lived here and much of the country's independence movement and later Congress plans were strategised here. In fact, ask the man on the street about politics and he will start with how Nehru used to be a call away.

A keen observer of political developments in the region, MP Dubey said: “People from all over eastern UP come to Allahabad for coaching classes for the competition exams and for them, unemployment is a major issue. They also fear that quota will lose its relevance with jobs turning contractual."

According to him, the contest is between cultural nationalism, social justice and secularism.

Political analyst, Rajesh Singh, from Gorakhpur, sees the election as a direct fight between the BJP and the Cong-SP alliance. He said the PDA (pichre, Dalit and alpashankhak) strategy of SP may yield dividends here as the area has a large chunk of OBCs, Dalits and Muslims.

The OBCs and upper-caste are a deciding factor in about 24 Lok Sabha constituencies, Yadav-Dalit-Minorities in only a few. But the aspirations of people for the development of the region remain unfulfilled, and the infrastructure and the per capita income remain low despite Adityanath’s efforts to develop three key centres of East- Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Prayagraj.

The government expects a windfall of revenue from religious tourism after all three districts along with Ayodhya have been developed as religious centres. However, the traditional weavers and carpet artisans have a tale of woes to narrate.

Though caste dynamics are dominant in the ongoing elections, the Ram temple and the Kashi Vishwanath corridor are also swaying the voters in the BJP’s favour.

In 2019, when the SP-BSP alliance had thrown a gauntlet to the BJP, the saffron ride had initially appeared bumpy in eastern UP. But then the blitzkrieg of rallies by Modi had changed the mood in the area. The 2022 assembly elections were no different.

Modi is not leaving anything to chance this time either and is on the move day in day and night, covering almost all the winning seats.

BSP chief Mayawati’s seemingly tacit support is also coming in handy as she at a rally told voters to vote for BSP as SP leader Akhilesh Yadav had cancelled reservations in jobs as chief minister, indirectly pushing them towards the BJP.

Constitution and quota remain major issues in this backward region and Modi has accused the alliance leaders of spreading sheer lies about BJP changing the Constitution if they achieved 400 par.

A socialist leader, who is now in the BJP, Shatrudh Prakash said the region is politically conscious as people here not only discuss politics but also analyse the way the wind is blowing and, according to him, this time it is BJP’s direction again.

According to him, caste will be overshadowed by Modi’s personality. “Eastern UP was once a fertile ground for the socialist movement. It was drenched in saffron in 2014 and is soaked in it even today despite the PDA strategy of SP,” Prakash said.

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