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Modi factor poses challenge to SP-BSP in eastern UP

Eastern UP, which includes key seats from where stalwarts— from the prime minister to members of the Gandhi family—will be contesting, will start going to the polls from today.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: May 06, 2019, 10.34 AM IST
PM Narendra Modi
The Narendra Modi factor seems far stronger in Eastern Uttar Pradesh which goes to polls in the last three phases from Monday than western UP. But the arithmetic is different this time with the SP-BSP alliance leaving the battle open.

BJP leaders ET spoke to predict a surge in the party’s tally from East UP, citing “positive sentiment for Modi and confusion in the other camp” after Priyanka Gandhi did not contest from Varanasi against Modi and later said the Congress was working towards helping the alliance in many seats, a claim Akhilesh Yadav rubbished.

Modi has escalated his campaign and could do over 15 rallies in East UP, more than he did in West UP. Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are only doing 11 joint rallies across the entire UP while they campaign separately as well, raising questions if complacency is setting in assuming the arithmetic is in their favour. The Alliance seems a force to reckon with in rural areas, with its leaders claiming it has done exceedingly well in West UP. The Congress seems only a spoiler in most seats, far more for the alliance than for the BJP.

The Gandhi Triangle
East UP has the maximum number of bastion seats –– seven –– including the geographical triangle of the Gandhi family in Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur where Rahul, Sonia and Maneka are contesting. Lucknow and Varanasi are being contested again by Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi while Akhilesh Yadav is contesting from Azamgarh. Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath’s old seat, is being contested by Ravi Kishan after BJP embarrassingly lost it in the by-poll. These seats seem comfortable wins for the traditional winners, except the contest in Amethi where BJP’s Smriti Irani has put up a spirited fight against Rahul Gandhi.

Amethi’s voters are in a dilemma between choosing the next PM and retaining its elite status, or opt for a development model which Irani is promising. Sonia Gandhi is comfortably placed in Rae Bareli despite hardly being there in the past five years and campaigning just once, speaking for merely four minutes at one rally. The turncoat candidate for the BJP, ex-Congress MLC Dinesh Pratap Singh, is facing unacceptability as he is viewed to have back-stabbed his party. “He used to touch my feet, call me sister and said he will always be loyal to Congress,” Priyanka said about Singh.

Maneka Gandhi was on a tricky wicket in Sultanpur, a seat she swapped with her son Varun, but his campaigning here last week seem to have improved Maneka’s chances. Varun has reached out to Muslims after Maneka had taken a swipe at them. In Azamgarh, while Bhojpuri cinestar Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua captured the imagination in the constituency initially, the scales may tilt in Akhilesh Yadav’s favour when he starts to campaign.

BJP looks set to reclaim Gorakhpur as Yogi Adityanath is making it his prestige issue. Low polling and a candidate who was not Yogi’s choice cost the party the by-poll last year. The crucial Nishad community seems to be in BJP’s favour this time after the Nishad party and its Gorakhpur’s by-poll winner (on SP ticket) Praveen Nishad joined hands with the BJP. The CM held a Nishad Sammelan in Gorakhpur on Sunday.

Here's how BJP, BSP+SP and congress fared in the last few elections in eastern UP

Congress a Spoiler
ET spent time especially in four seats –– Sant Kabir Nagar, Banda, Barabanki and Mohanlalganj –– where there are triangular fights on seats other than the bastions. BJP’s Praveen Nishad is contesting from Sant Kabir Nagar as the seat has a considerable Nishad population. But Congress candidate Bhalchandra Yadav who shifted from SP after the seat fell in BSP’s quota, is netting many Yadavs and Muslims. The alliance has put up a Brahmin to attract upper castes as BJP dropped its Brahmin MP, Sharad Tripathi.

In the reserved Mohanlalganj seat abutting Lucknow, locals seemed divided between BJP’s MP and its UP SC/ST Cell head Kaushal Kishore, CL Verma of the alliance and RK Chaudhari of the Congress. So is the case in Banda where BJP’s Allahabad MP Shyam Charam Gupta is fielded by SP against BJP’s local MLA RK Singh Patel who came second in 2014 on a BSP ticket. Congress candidate BK Patel was SP’s candidate last time. The Congress is hurting the BJP here, given the caste of its candidate. But this is opposite in Barabanki where despite a big joint rally here by Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav last week, the alliance seems on a weak wicket due to the Congress candidate, the son of PL Punia.

BJP may have a few easy-to-win seats–– like in Ballia where SP did not field former PM Chandrashekhar’s son Neeraj Shekhar, giving BJP an advantage. Congress has no candidate here and the candidature of its candidates was rejected in Ambedkar Nagar and Basgaon. BJP seems in a good position in Deoria where its Brahmin candidate Ramapati Ram Tripathi is getting support after his son Sharad Tripathi’s ticket was cut from Sant Kabir Nagar and the father was fielded in place of Kalraj Mishra. Modi’s rally scheduled for May 12 could help Tripathi. In Domariyaganj, the fight between the Congress candidate and Aftab Alam of the alliance may help BJP's Jagdambika Pal. Congress is hoping that RPN Singh will win Kushi Nagar but there a tough fight from the Alliance. Some other seats which seemed a challenge for BJP in a triangular fight, like Basti, could tilt in BJP’s way after the PM’s May 4 rally.

Seat position of parties in 40 seats in eastern UP — 2009, 2014, 2017 assembly results mapped to LS constituencies, & 2017 assembly results after combining votes of SP and BSP.

Nationalism vs NYAY
Modi’s nationalism pitch rings a bell in East UP, much more than the Congress’ NYAY promise. While people in West UP were not aware of NYAY, there is some awareness about it in East UP though many do not believe they will get Rs 72,000 a year if Congress wins. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was in Maharajganj this week to stress that it would happen.

“A subject which finds most resonance after the issue of jobs is NYAY. Congress must spread the message and that is one reason I came here. NYAY’s message has spread to states where literacy rate is high –– UP is a big state and literacy rate is a bit low but people largely are now aware of NYAY,” he said.

The Alliance claims an under-current against the BJP on issues like stray cattle. While Rahul Gandhi and Modi are contesting from East UP, Rahul’s ‘impact’ does not seem to transcend beyond Amethi unlike Modi. ET found people more vocal for “Modi as PM”.
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