On The Ground In Phulpur: Seat In Which It First Tested Caste Math May Not Be Easy To Retain For Gathbandhan
Phulpur seat falls in Allahabad district of Uttar Pradesh.
Among the several things people are impressed with are the larger-than-life image of a perfectly-held Kumbh mela as well as Modi’s infrastructure push.
These could work in favour of the BJP.
Before announcing a tie-up in Uttar Pradesh for the Lok Sabha elections, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav put to test their caste math in the seats which were up for by-polls in 2018. It was the success in these seats that set the ball rolling for an alliance between the two rivals. One of these seats was Phulpur.
Falling in Allahabad district, the Phulpur seat has around 300,000 Patel voters, at least 2.5 lakh Dalit voters — 100,000 Jatav and 1.5 lakh non-Jatav, and 200,000 voters each from Muslim, Yadav and Brahmin communities. Non-Yadav and non-Patel Other Backward Class (OBC) voters from the Bind, Nishad, Prajapati and Vishwakarma, Maurya and Kushwaha communities number over 100,000 each.
In the 2018 by-poll, the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate had defeated BJP’s — both Patels — with a margin of 60,000 votes. This time, the SP has given ticket to a Ahir — Pandhari Yadav. The Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Keshri Devi Patel, an obvious choice given the caste arithmetic. A known face, she had contested from this seat on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket in 2004 and lost to the SP. The Congress, in a tactical alliance with the gathbandhan, has also fielded a Kurmi —Dharmaraj Patel, to cut into the Patel vote, on which the BJP is banking.
The Lok Sabha has five assembly segments — Phaphamau, Soraon (reserved for Schedule Caste (SC)), Phulpur, Allahabad West and Allahabad North.
In Phulpur Vidhan Sabha
On the ground, Swarajya’s first stop was in Phulpur Vidhan Sabha’s Malawan Bujurg village, where this correspondent met a group of men at a pan gumti.
At the shop to buy their daily tobacco, Darbari Lal (SC), and Gulab Vishwakarma (OBC), said they will vote for the BJP. “In the last 25-30 years, Modi is the first prime minister who has done good work for the poor. He has given us roads, toilets, free gas connections and houses. This has had a real impact on the ground,” Darbari Lal said, adding, “Rashtriya suraksha ke mudde par unko bahut safalta mili hai (Modi has been very successful on the issue of national security)“.
Gulab Vishwakarma, who works at a mobile repair shop in Phulpur town, credited Modi for the Kumbh mela, which he said was different from those he had seen in the past. “The facilities given at the mela this time have never been provided in the past,” he mentioned. The owner of the pan shop, Nand Kumar Srivastava, agreed, saying it was a real feat.
The Sangam area, where the mela was held, lies in the Phulpur Lok Sabha.
Arun Mishra, a local driver, told Swarajya that he was impressed with Modi’s road building spree. “Roads, even those passed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and not built by the Congress government in 10 years, have been completed under Modi,” he said, also recalling other welfare programmes of the government. “Unko ek bar phir se wapas aana hi chaiye (Modi should come back),” he added.
A kilometer away, in the same village, two farmers — Mohammad Shafaq and Mohammad Musa, will vote for the gathbandhan. “Modi’s schemes have not reached us. We have applied for Kisan Nidhi, but are yet to get it,” said Shafaq, adding, “Akhilesh ka kaam bohot accha hai (Akilesh Yadav’s work is very good). Many in our community had benefited from his Lohiya Grameen Awaas Yojan”.
Next, we stopped at Sahson Chauraha, where Saroj Pasi (SC), who sells fruits on the roadside, said Modi’s decision to move official work online has irritated him.“Because of Modi, one man in every family needs to be free everyday to make sure all documents are complete,” he said. When asked if this was stopping leakage, Saroj said, “Jisko nahi milna chaiye unko mil hi raha hai (Undeserving people continue to reap benefits)”.
But Gyan Chand, a fruit seller who identified himself as Chamar, disagrees. “Yahan toh Modi, Modi hi chal raha hai. (Everyone is chanting Modi’s name here)”, Gyan Chand said, adding he had received a free gas connection and a sauchalaya from the government.
Electrician Sunil Yadav and his helper Naveen Yadav will also vote for the cycle. “Instead of making our life easy, Modi has made it difficult over the the past five years. We had to stand in line to withdraw our hard won money and now, Aadhaar has been made compulsory for all his schemes,”said Sunil, adding Modi’s schemes are not effective on the ground. “Hum logon ko abhi tak awas nahi mila hai (We are yet to get a house under his scheme),” said Naveen Yadav.
But Neha Pasi (SC), who was waiting for her turn to use the photocopy machine at the next shop, dismissed these complaints. “I have already received a gas connection and funding for a toilet. If Modi comes back, I am sure I will also get a house,” she told this correspondent.
Suresh Chand Singh, who runs a medical store on the main road, says he will vote for the BJP as only a stable government can ensure development. “If a coalition government come to power, there will be a tussle for power between parties. They will form and dissolve governments every fortnight. Is that what we want,” he said. “Modi ji needs to be rewarded for his honesty,” he added.
At our next stop in Babuganj, we met Chandrashekhar Patel, who runs a gift and cosmetics shop. “Modi ji jaisa pradhan mantri na kabhi hua hai, na ho sakta hai,” he told Swarajya, adding his vote will go to the saffron party. “Earlier, we used to get electricity hardly for eight hours. After Yogi Adityanath became Chief Minister, we have started getting electricity for almost 20 hours everyday,” he added.
A few kilometers away, outside the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative (IFFCO) market, Gangesh Kumar Gaud (OBC), a transport vehicle operator, said he has never seen roads as good as those built under the Modi government.“Vikas chaiye, vikas ho raha hai (We need development, and it is happening)“, he told this correspondent. He will vote for the BJP, and so will Ramesh Patel, who sells dairy products outside the market.
When asked why the BJP’s Patale candidate lost in the 2018 by-poll, Ramesh said the party’s supporters did not go out to vote as it was not consequential.
Phulpur saw a turnout of only 37.39 per cent in the 2018 by-poll.
“This time, it is about electing Modi. People will come out to vote,” he added.
“I will vote for the BJP in national interest. Did you see how he (Modi) outmanoeuvred Pakistan and China recently to get Masood Azhar banned?”, Ramesh Patel said.
In Soraon and Phaphamau
In Soraon, we stopped at a Western Union money transfer outlet to talk to Parvez Alam, a diploma student, and Javed Akthar, a computer engineer who works in Mumbai. Both Javed and Parvez, like most from the Muslim community in Phulpur, will vote for the gathbandhan. When asked if voting for Congress was an option, Mohammad Ajmad, who joined this correspondent’s conversation with the two Muslim youth midway, said no. “The Muslims will vote for the party which can defeat the BJP,” he said.
A few meters away from the Western Union outlet is Luvkush Modanwal’s (OBC) pan gumti, where Swarajya met Rajesh Patel and Shivpujan Patel. The duo, who have shops in Soraon town, say they will vote for the saffron party.
“Modi gave Pakistan a jaw-breaking response for killing our jawans. This country had not seen such a decisive prime minister,” Shivpujan said.
Luvkush agreed, saying basic amenities such as roads and electricity have drastically improved under a BJP government in the state. “Jab se Yogi ji aye hain rajya me, bijli vyavastha sudhar gai hai (Since Yogi has become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, electricity supply has become more reliable,” he said.
When this correspondent asked what they think about the Congress candidate, who is also from the Patel community, Rajesh Patel dismissed him as a “vote katua”.
“In comparison, Keshri Devi Patel is an influential leader. She has served four times as a member of the zilla panchayat,” he noted.
In Soraon’s Taquia village, Swarajya met Jeetlal, a daily wager who identified himself as Chamar. “Modi ji has given us toilets and free gas connections, he has built good roads. One can see development happening around,” he said. The 50-year-old daily wager will vote for the BJP, and so will his neighbour Basanti Devi, also from the the Chamar community. “I have received Rs 12,000 to build a toilet,” she said.
“The women who used to defecate in the open now have toilets at home. What can be better than this?,” Jeetlal said, with nodding approval from Basanti Devi.
The two have voted for Mayawati in the past and say will do so again in the Assembly election. “We are loyal to Mayawati and have voted for her in the past. We will vote for her again in the state Assembly elections,” said Jeetlal.
In the same basti, Savita and Sheela, who were buying bangles on the street outside their home, said they will vote based on biradari (caste). “We will vote for whoever Mayawati supports,” Savita, from the Chamar community, said.
However, many Dalits said they were undecided.
Our next stop was at Baradari market in Soraon. Shivmurat Pasi (SC), a bike mechanic who has a shop in the market, says he is voting for the saffron party. “Except Yadavs and Muslims, almost everyone in my village will vote for the BJP,” he said. Shailender Kumar Saroj (SC), a student who was getting his bike repaired at the shop, said he too will vote for the BJP. “There was always a provision for scholarship for SC students, but it was never released. Now, 70-80 per cent students get it,” he noted.
In the village, Sukhdeb Vishwakarma (OBC), a carpenter, is building a house with assistance from the government under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Reluctant to talk, he said, “Modi ji has done a lot for this area. Here, everyone will vote for him”.
Anil Maurya (OBC), who runs a tea shop, and Pradeep Kesarwani, a kirana supplier, are also likely to vote for the saffron party.
In Allahabad North And West
Next, we headed to the most urban parts of the the Phulpur Lok Sabha.
Sunil Jaiswal, who runs a sanitaryware shop in Azad Market, says Allahabad has never been in a better shape before. He is voting for the BJP.
“The roads in the city have been widened, new bridges built and cleanliness has become a priority,” he says. “In the decades that I have lived here, I never witnessed a Kumbh so well organised. In the past, during the mela, the city used to get flooded with people, roads got clogged with traffic and there was filth everywhere. This time, it was managed so well that there was no trouble,” he added.
But Raju Prajapati (OBC), a plumber who the Jaiswals employ, says he will not vote for the BJP. “My family has been voting for the BJP for years. But this time, I am with the gathbandhan. The BJP has been favouring upper castes and the lower castes have been exploited by the party for votes,” he said.
In the same market, Mahender Soni (OBC), who runs a television repair shop, says the city has received a face-lift in the last five years.
“This time, the mela was completely different. The administration was very alert, the Allahabad fort was opened for visitors and the ghat was clean. You must have seen paintings on walls throughout the city,” he said.
Ravi Kumar Sahu (OBC), who owns a hardware shop, and Sanjay Verma, in-charge of security at the Maruti Suzuki showroom in the market, are voting for the BJP.
“In the past, when our jawans were attacked by Pakistan or China, they had to seek permission to retaliate. Now, Modi ji has given them the permission in advance,” said Sanjay Verma, adding no major terror attack has taken place in the country.
Radhey Shyam Gupta, a fruit seller who has his shop a few meters away from the Maruti showroom, and Rakesh Kumar, a painter who identified himself as Dalit, are voting for the gathbandhan and the Congress, respectively. While Radhey Shyam refused to discuss the reasons, saying he can’t elaborate, Rakesh Kumar seemed unimpressed with Modi.
“What has he done other than building this road,” he said, adding that his vote will go to the Congress even though the party was in no position to win.
He was the only Congress voter this correspondent came across. In the 2018 by-poll, the party had managed to get just 2.7 per cent vote.
A few kilometers away, Prem Nath Jaiswal, who runs a plasticware shop, says he will vote for the BJP. “Modi ji has raised India’s stature around the world. At home, he has focused on development. What else does the nation need?,” he said.
“He has done so much for the country, has sacrificed his life in a way. Should he now come serve food to us in our homes?,” he added.
Kamlesh Kumar, a Dalit who sells laiya chana outside Allahabad’s prestigious Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT), says he is undecided, but is impressed with the development in the city over the past few years.
“A few years back, there used to be a traffic jam in front of this college from 4 pm to 9 pm. Even ambulances used to get stuck here. But I haven’t seen a jam here in the last few years. The roads have been widened,” he said.
Manoj Kumar (SC), who works on contract basis in MNNIT, agreed with Kamlesh.
Like many others in these Assembly segments, he too was impressed with the government’s management of the Ardh Kumbh.
From this correspondent’s interactions, it was clear that the Patels, a large number of other non-Yadav OBCs and upper castes are with the BJP.
Having switched to a Yadav candidate, the gathbandhan had already hinted that it was not going to get the desired chunk of Patel votes, which dominates this seat. With the BJP fielding the only serious Patel candidate, the community is likely to vote for the saffron party. BJP’s alliance with Kurmi leader Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal(S) is also helping the BJP on the ground. Moreover, the gathbandhan’s tactical alliance with the Congress, which has fielded a Patel, has failed to make an impression on the ground.
In this scenario, the gathbandhan will be banking only on Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits. The fact that, unlike the by-poll, this election is consequential and is likely to draw BJP voters to booths, who may have chosen to remain at home in 2018, also adds to the gathbandhan’s woes.
Just a year after the SP won it, it is clear that the seat where the gahtbandhan had first put to test its caste math may not be easy for it to retain.
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