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UP By-Elections: SP, BSP Work As One Well-oiled Machine, But is it Enough to Win Phulpur?

BJP sources said that they are wary of the Dalit vote going to the SP and said that they are expecting at least 50% of the SC vote to shift. However, this does not guarantee a win for the alliance.

Uday Singh Rana |

Updated:March 14, 2018, 8:28 AM IST
UP By-Elections: SP, BSP Work As One Well-oiled Machine, But is it Enough to Win Phulpur?
File Photo of BSP (left) and SP (right) flags.
Allahabad/Phulpur: In Dhokari village, an hour from Allahabad city, Saroj Kumar Gautam is sitting with a group of fellow Bahujan Samaj Party workers on a tarpaulin sheet in the shade of a tree. Suddenly, a fleet of Royal Enfield motorcycles with Samajwadi Party workers rolls up. As Rakesh Yadav, the SP booth in charge disembarks, Gautam takes a dig, "Lo ji, aa gaye Samajwadi gunde!" (Look, the Samajwadi goons are here).

Ordinarily, a comment such as this would have caused a confrontation, maybe even fisticuffs. Instead, Yadav laughs and the two men embrace, after exchanging greetings of 'Jai Bhim' and 'Jai Samajwad'.

Not long ago, Gautam, a Dalit, and Yadav, from the Yadav community, were bitter political rivals. But their parties are now trying to build a new social coalition with Dalits and Other Backward Castes (OBCs). A week before the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, BSP chief Mayawati asked her workers to campaign for the "strongest non-BJP candidate". Since then, Gautam and his men on the ground have been canvassing the hinterland, asking for votes for the Samajwadi Party.

During Phulpur Lok Sabha bypoll held on Sunday, Dhani Ram, a Dalit voter from a village near Phulpur voted for SP candidate Nagendra Patel. "I voted for BJP in 2014 and then again in 2017. I was very unhappy with them, so I had decided to vote for someone else. Even if Behenji's message had not come, I would have voted for SP. Even so, it was very strange to see SP and BSP workers coming to my house together."

While the BJP has claimed this "opportunistic" alliance of the SP and BSP floundered, ground workers of both regional parties have a different story to tell. "There is no bitterness. We were called by the zonal coordinator of the BSP and told to campaign for the strongest non-BJP candidate. Immediately, we went to the local SP workers and started drawing up the ground strategy together. This happened once in 1993, but for most of our young workers, this is entirety new," said Saroj Kumar Gautam, BSP booth in charge at Dhokari.

One SP worker chimes in, "Bhagwaan humare netaon ko aisi hi sadbuddhi de (may God continue to grant such wisdom to our leaders). After 2014 and 2017, we had been waiting for something like this."

The two parties have had a bitter, even violent history. This includes the infamous Guest House case of 1995, when Mayawati was assaulted by a mob. To this day, she blames SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav for the attack. For BSP workers, it helps that the party reigns have now passed on to Akhilesh Yadav, who fondly refers to Mayawati as 'Bua' (aunt).

But will their supporters shift so easily to SP? Chetan Kumar, 23, a Dalit, said, "Some of the older Dalits in our village still supported Behenji, but a lot of us younger ones had shifted to BJP. Narendra Modi had said that he would ensure two crore jobs would be created, but it was a false promise. I will graduate in a year and I have nowhere to go after that. The older generation is worried about their pensions, which BJP has stopped. Everyone is worried that electricity tariffs in the villages will continue to rise. Modi says he will give us free LPG cylinders. We don't want subsidies, we want jobs. So if SP is our best bet, I will happily go with them. That's why I voted SP on Sunday."

The counting of votes will begin on Monday morning for an election that was marked by a low voter turnout – 37.39% in Phulpur. While both BJP and SP have fielded candidates who are Kurmis, a dominant OBC community in Eastern UP, it is the Dalits who might emerge as kingmakers. There are around 5.5 lakh Scheduled Caste voters in the Phulpur constituency, who have traditionally voted for the BSP. If the BSP manages to convince its voters to shift entirely to the SP, the newly formed alliance may have a winning formula on its hands.

BJP sources said that they are wary of the Dalit vote going to the SP and said that they are expecting at least 50% of the SC vote to shift. However, this does not guarantee a win for the alliance. Don-turned-politician Ateeq Ahmed was contesting this election as an independent. There are 2.5 lakh Muslim voters in the Phulpur constituency. While Ahmed's influence in the rural belt is limited, he holds considerable sway among Muslims in the Allahabad West area. If Ateeq Ahmed is able to turn even half this figure towards himself, the going may get tough for the alliance. That, combined with BJP's clout amoung non-Yadav OBCs, may help the saffron party drum up winning numbers.

BSP sources are confident that if Ahmed is damaging the alliance among Muslims, Congress candidate Manish Mishra, a Brahmin, will damage the BJP's chances among Upper Caste voters.

Back in Dhokari, as Rakesh Yadav leaves to "get the vote out" and help voters to the polling booths, he responds to Gautam's 'Jai Bhim' with another 'Jai Samajwad'. When asked if the two slogans are a contradiction, Gautam says, "Dono ek hi to hain! (Both are one and the same).

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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