AZAMGARH (UP): With the sun about to go down on Azamgarh on a scorching summer’s day, Badri Yadav, in the company of four friends, puts his feet up outside his house. While polling in the area is still about a week away, the discourse, centered predictably on politics in the middle of the election season, has already reached a fever pitch.
While several of UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats are in focus come election time, Azamgarh stands unique. The constituency, dominated by Yadav, Muslim and Dalit voters, bucked the polling trend in 2014 when Modi wave swept 71 seats in the state. Samajwadi Party (SP) patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav won the seat by a comfortable margin.
Badri, a farmer, said Azamgarh sent him to the lower House after a thumping win five years ago, and won’t disappoint his son this time around.
“Muslims and Yadavs make for a strong votebank and this time, too, they will go with SP. I am certain of this. However, the Dalit votes might be split this time,” Badri said, adding that the Dalits also comprise a sizeable polling contingent in the region.
Asked if Modi’s welfare schemes has reached every household here, Ram Chandra Yadav, Badri’s friend, said, “Please don’t get me talking about the central government. We still feel the pain inflicted by the note ban. It destroyed the arthvyavastha (economy) of the country. The BJP government only talks big. It can only divide people.”
While the Dalits in the state have usually voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a different trend could be in the works in many villages of eastern UP this time.
Many Dalit households have praised the Modi government by rolling out schemes such as Ujjwala and Swachh Bharat. Even the Ayushman Bharat scheme, under which the poorest of poor can access quality healthcare free of cost, has found favour with a section of Dalits in this region of UP.
Considering the caste arithmetic in Azamgarh, the BJP has hedged its bets on Dinesh Lal Yadav, a local Bhojpuri singer-actor, who goes by the name ‘Nirahua’. A household name in the area, Yadav’s peppy Bhojpuri numbers are especially popular with youths across communities.
However, Shobha Singh, another friend of Badri, doesn’t see the BJP’s ploy to attract Yadav votes by fielding a Bhojpuri superstar fetching much electoral dividend.
“How can you compare a Bhojpuri singer with a big leader like Akhilesh Yadav? Mulayam (sitting MP) has his own support base in the area. Nirahua’s fan following won’t be enough to make a dent to that vote base,” Singh added.
Amidst attempts at social engineering by different political parties, a new slogan is on the lips of every resident in the area.
Mouthing the slogan, Rashid Khan of Sanjarpur, said, “Lathi, Haathi aur 786 hi is baar chalega.” The slogan broadly translates to: any candidate who has the support of Lathi (Yadav), Haathi (Dalit) and 786 (Muslim community) will win the polls here. It is also indicates that the Mahagathbandhan (opppsition grand alliance) may have got its arithmetic right.
Ramakant Singh, a retired government servant who knows his politics, claimed the alliance between SP and BSP will end the 25-year long fight between the backward caste and Dalit communities.
He also asserted that Priyanka Gandhi’s entry won’t be enugh to provide strength to an organizationally weak Congress in this region.
‘Akhilesh not in the race to be PM’
JP’s Dinesh Lal Yadav, Bhojpuri singer-actor, popularly known as Nirahua, is up against Akhilesh Yadav in Azamgarh. The Bhojpuri superstar tells Kumar Vikram that he will prove to be a worthy challenger to the SP chief as he knows how to swim against the tide. Excerpts from an interview;
You have been a successful Bhojpuri singer and star. What made you enter politics?
In a democracy, everybody has the right to fulfil his desire. But, somehow, in Poorvanchal, they have made mockery of democracy. Here, people are threatened into voting or not voting (for a particular party). I am here to tell the people that there is no need to feel threatened. Go to the polling booths and vote without fear.
What inspired you to join the BJP?
BJP is a party for which the country comes first. It doesn’t promote family or dynasty. Here, one not only has the right to choose one’s representative but also gets an opportunity to become a representative. Loktantra (democracy) is all about freedom of speech and it’s very much there in the BJP.
Akhilesh Yadav is a big leader whereas you are a newcomer. How big is this challenge?
This election is to choose the Prime Minister and Akhileshji is not in the race. It’s up to the people of Azamgarh to decide their prime minister. If people want Narendra Modi as their PM, then the challenge is his (Akhilesh’s), not mine.
People like you in these parts, but will they favour you as a political representative?
In many meetings, even if I reach hours late, people wait for me. My party, and especially our PM, has the support of the people. They want Modi ji to return as prime minister.