Raja Mahendra Aridaman Singh, scion of erstwhile princely state of Bah near Agra is a local heavyweight in his own right. Six-time Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Bah, he has lost just one of the seven elections contested so far. An astute observer of political shifts, he is also a serial party hopper. Popular wisdom in the region is that Raja would be a minister whichever party came to power.
Elected on the Samajwadi Party (SP) ticket in the present assembly and unfazed by the raging family feud, the shrewd Raja not only managed a ticket for himself in Akhilesh's list from Bah but also for wife Rani Pakshalika Singh from neighbouring Kheragarh in Shivpal's list. If that wasn't a coup of sorts, Raja shocked everyone by joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 15 January along with his wife and bagging candidature for Rani from Bah.
In Kheragarh, the BJP has fielded Mahesh Goyal. Interestingly, Goyal's Vaishya community has only 14,000 voters as against 60,000 to 70,000 Brahmin and Thakur voters in Kheragarh. Despite the odds and facing the hostility of former Thakur MLA, Amar Singh Parmar, who has been denied ticket, Goyal is very much in the fray.
Further west in Fatehpur Sikri, supporters of Rajkumar Chahar, a ticket aspirant, staged massive protests when the BJP denied him a ticket in favour of fellow Jat Udayabhan Singh. Angry Chahar, who wanted to contest as an independent before being assuaged by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh like former MLA Prem Singh Baghel from Etmadpur, however refused aggressive overtures from Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal.
The stories from these three constituencies in Agra district quite sum up the direction in which political winds are blowing in Western Uttar Pradesh. The party occupying the central space in these assembly elections is the BJP. It is fighting SP in some places, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in other, and also elements within in some other constituencies. Ajit Singh's RLD is a spent force which might find it difficult to retain even its last bastions – Baraut, Baghpat, Maant and Goverdhan. Mayawati's BSP is fighting it constituency to constituency and not as a pan-Uttar Pradesh political force. The weight of the SP-Congress alliance lies mainly with the former with transferability of SP votes to Congress remaining a challenge.
Political analysts have many ways to gauge voter mood. The rush for tickets – and the number of dissidents – is one way to determine who is in the lead. By these indicators, it is certainly the BJP which has an edge over others in Western Uttar Pradesh.
For the BJP, which has the best campaign going for it among the three main parties in the key contest, the challenge however comes from within. It faces considerable wrath of its traditional trader and businessperson support base in urban and semi-urban constituencies due to demonetisation. Most industries, like footwear in Agra, glass in Firozabad and brassware in Aligarh, have suffered significantly as they’re labour-intensive and part of the informal economy. Yet the resentment due to demonetisation losses has a distinct class bias. While a section of traders and businesspersons remains angry, workers and labourers are either supportive of the move or disaffected in their electoral preferences due to it.
The BJP, however, hopes to make up the losses in urban areas by non-Yadav other backward class (OBC) mobilisation in rural seats. In Western Uttar Pradesh, it is also banking on the near-complete support of the Jats in its favour. The hurt and anger over Muzaffarnagar is still haunting Jats, and they see assembly elections as a more realistic opportunity to vent it out.
The first stage of elections in Western Uttar Pradesh is important to the BJP because it has only three out of fifteen districts going to polls where Yadav-Muslim combination can significantly affect the results. A good showing in the first and second phases is essential for it to realise its plans. This phase is also crucial for Mayawati as her gamble of one-fourth tickets to Muslims in the hope of a successful Dalit-Muslim combine will be tested here. The most significant chink in the BSP's traditional vote base is expected in northwest Uttar Pradesh.
The SP, on the other hand, is largely counting on seats going to polls in the third through sixth phases. It will be happy to get as many seats as it can in the first two phases. It also hopes to improve its footprints in the urban constituencies.
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