Why It Won’t Be A Cakewalk For Dimple Yadav In Samajwadi Stronghold Kannauj

by Madhur Sharma - Apr 29, 2019 10:40 AM +05:30 IST
Why It Won’t Be A Cakewalk For Dimple Yadav In Samajwadi Stronghold KannaujDimple Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav (@dimpleyadav/Twitter)
  • Kannauj has long been a Samajwadi Party stronghold. Panic signs emerged in 2014 when Dimple Yadav, daughter-in-law of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh, barely managed a victory

    With arch-rivals Bahujan Samaj Party as its ally and strong disapproval for it among cadre, victory looks for SP in Kannuaj looks difficult this time.

Kannauj is to Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Yadav family what Amethi or Rai Bareli is to the Gandhis.

The Uttar Pradesh seat holds special value as it is the ‘karmabhoomi’ of Ram Manohar Lohia, one of the tallest Indian socialist icons, and also because of the fact that the Yadavs have held the seat continuously from 1999. First, the patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav held the seat, and then his son, Akhilesh Yadav. When Akhilesh Yadav vacated it in 2012 to become the chief minister, his wife Dimple Yadav ascended the seat. She was the only candidate in three decades to go to Lok Sabha unopposed, though not without some serious accusations. More on that later.

Despite an unopposed victory in 2012 by-elections, Dimple Yadav barely managed to scrape a victory in the 2014 general election in which her margin of victory against the Bharatiya Janta Party’s Subrat Pathak was just 19,907 votes, which is not an impressive margin for a seat like Kannauj and a high-profile candidate like Dimple.

A lot of water has since gone under the bridge over Ganga in Kannauj.

For one, the Samajwadi Party has now allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), former arch-rival, and two, the myth that a ‘VIP candidate’ cannot lose has been broken.

Kannauj is one of the 13 parliamentary constituencies in UP that goes to polls in the fourth phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on 29 April. SP’s Dimple and BJP’s Subrat Pathak are in fray again.

Our first stop in Kannauj was the district court where people from all walks of life from all over the district could be found at any point in time. Several interesting things popped up in our conversations with lawyers and even some farmers who were there for various legal purposes.

The most strange thing was the claim of a ‘settlement’ in the 2014 election.

“Dimple Yadav barely won the 2014 election. The margin was a little over than 19,000 votes. It is a common belief here that she only won out of a settlement with the BJP,” a lawyer said, requesting not to be named.

Another person in his chamber said, “The BJP was winning Kannauj but it gave up Kannauj in lieu of another seat that it was losing. Subrat Pathak was leading substantially till afternoon, but, then, all of a sudden, Dimple took the lead and she surprisingly won in the last hour of counting. It’s hard to believe there was no settlement.”

This claim would be repeated multiple times during our travels through the constituency.

As we moved through the court premises, most people said, even if they were not SP supporters, that Akhilesh Yadav had done considerable developmental work in Kannauj, which ranged from improving road connectivity to setting up educational and medical infrastructure.

The medical college at Kannauj. The college was initially named after Dr BR Ambedkar but the Samajwadi Party’s government later removed Ambedkar from the name. The move has long been disapproved by the Dalits.  
The medical college at Kannauj. The college was initially named after Dr BR Ambedkar but the Samajwadi Party’s government later removed Ambedkar from the name. The move has long been disapproved by the Dalits.  

“Even this new court complex was built by Akhilesh Yadav’s efforts,” a lawyer said, wishing not to be named. “We lawyers would otherwise sit in tents in summers in 40-41 degrees. Now there is a building with proper facilities.”

It was indeed 40 degrees the day we were at the Kannauj court premises, and heat of the debates that ensued there rivalled the high mercury.

“The gathabandhan is not going to work as there is not going to be Dalit-Muslim unity as there has long been a Dalit-Muslim conflict in the area,” Prashant Mishra said. He gave the example of an incident in a village in the district in which a Dalit girl was allegedly raped by a Muslim and the village strongman, a Yadav, had sided with the alleged rapist.

Prashant was 16 and was not thus eligible to vote, but he told us that he was quite politically aware and he knew what he was speaking.

Abhishek Mishra, who had been intently listening to Prashant, stood up and declared that the BJP would at least win by a margin of one lakh votes.

Mishra was quickly shouted down by others around him, mostly Yadavs. They were quick to point out that no incidents of either caste-based or religion-based violence had been reported in the area. The only case in recent times, they pointed out, was one involving people from the BJP, including the party’s Lok Sabha candidate Subrat Pathak. (Pathak and others have been acquitted in the case mentioned here.)

Shibhu Yadav said the margin of an SP-BSP victory would at least be of 1.5 lakh as both the SP and BSP voters would combine. Shyam Bahadur Yadav nodded in agreement from a nearby bench.

As we moved away from this group, we met one advocate, Mohammad Nouman Khan, aged 61, who said it did not really matter to him who won since all the winning candidates would be Hindus and it would be a government of Hindus in any case.

Hame maar hi khaani hai aur jaan hi bachaani hai, bas ye hai ki kitni kam khaaye aur kitni zyada bachaye. Chott to lagti hi hai par eint pathar se zyada gulguli hoti hai (We are only going to be beaten, and are somehow going to save our lives. The only thing is that how lesser we are beaten, and how more we save our lives. Everything hurts but a brick hurts lesser than a stone),” he said.

We also witnessed farm distress among farmers who were in the court for various matters.

Rakesh Singh Sachdeva from Jariyan village in Kannauj’s Tirwa Vidhan Sabha constituency said he was going to vote for the Samajwadi Party as Akhilesh Yadav was committed to bring an agricultural mandi to Kannauj.

“Akhilesh Yadav was developing a mandi here which Yogi Adityanath took to Gorakhpur,” Rakesh said. “There is also the issue of stray cattle. They destroyed four bighas of my maze.”

Hridesh Verma agreed with Rakesh and said he too would vote for the SP for similar reasons.

Gaurav Yadav, who was passing by, heard the conversation and joined us. He said, “Their [Yogi government’s] farm loan waiver is a farce. I received a waiver of 61 paise! They have also reduced the weight of a bag of urea from 50 kilograms to 45 and have increased the rate.”

Moving on, Arvind Singh from the Chhibramau Vidhan Sabha constituency said, “Kannauj is connected to Lucknow via the Agra-Lucknow Expressway. We have an engineering college, a medical college, a government hospital, and a world class pathology lab, and all of this has been built by Akhilesh Yadav. Kaam dikhta hai unka (their work is visible).”

When we moved from there to a different section of the court, we came across a lawyers’ chamber in which three people were sitting idle.

Ashok Rathore said he was going to vote for the BJP in rashtra-hit (national interest). Rana Pratap Singh nodded. They agreed that it was Narendra Modi who was the factor behind their decision to vote for the BJP and not their local candidate.

“It’s rashtravaad over jaativaad for us,” they said.

Mohammad Chouhan disagreed. He said his vote would go the SP in the name of development that they have done in Kannauj.

In another chamber, Mohammad Umar, from Tirwa’s Aher vilalge, was at the court regarding a case concerning his car. Regarding the election, he said, “There is definitely farm distress, but it is not really an electoral issue, as people will mostly vote along caste lines.”

His lawyer, Piyush Mishra, agreed with Umar.

Umar added, “Those who are thoughtful about benefits they have received from central schemes, such as Ujjwala and Ayushman Bharat, have been weaned away from jaativaad and are deciding their votes on issues other than jaativaad.”

He also said that the usual caste affiliations may be further affected as some upper castes (traditional BJP voters) that he knew were miffed with the central government’s stance over the SC-ST Act whereas some Dalits that he knew were appreciative of it. This, he said, could sway voters either to or away from the BJP.

When we asked him about the state government’s crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses, Umar said, “It’s not wrong as legal slaughterhouses have not been closed. Only illegal slaughterhouses have been closed. They are bound to be closed as they are illegal.”

About their impact on elections and people, he said, “There is not much impact, other than the fact that there is now awareness among people about the legality of the business. People now know that illegal slaughter was also going on and that there is legal and illegal slaughter.”

In walked another advocate, named Hari Shyam Saxena, who said, “Ye jeth ka maheena hai aur ham jeth hain aur Dimple hamari bhabhi. Unko jitana hamara dharam hai.” (This is the month of jyeth and I am Dimple Yadav’s jeth [older brother-in-law] and Dimple is my sister-in-law and it is thus my duty to make her win).”

As we concluded our visit to the court and set off to leave the premises, we came across Sarafat Hussein, 48, from Gursaiganj in Kannauj’s Tirwa, which is known for bidi-making.

“Enough work has not happened in last two decades. I now want change in Kannauj, and I wish everyone else wants a change as well. We are almost there where we were two decades ago,” Hussein said, criticising the SP that has represented Kannauj for two decades now.

The change, Hussein subtly said, could be Subrat Pathak.

We left the district court for the district’s commercial quarters that housed its famous perfume industry. Kannauj is known as ittr nagri, the city of perfumes, as it is one of the oldest perfume-producing hubs of the country. Trade insiders say up to 80 percent of the city’s population is directly or indirectly related to the trade in one way or another. The cold storage, directly related to the agriculture, is the other major industry in the city.

An owner of one of the oldest perfume-manufacturing units in the city told Swarajya that theirs is a traditional trade. The centuries-old industry that produces organic ittr against synthetic perfumes still runs on ages-old traditional methods, employing earthen boilers and wood and cow-dung for fuel, the person said, on the condition of anonymity.

The <i>kothi </i>of one of the oldest families in the perfume trade of Kannauj, who formally set up manufacturing in 1861 &nbsp;
The kothi of one of the oldest families in the perfume trade of Kannauj, who formally set up manufacturing in 1861  

He said their industry had been relatively unaffected from the present government’s policies, such as the demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax. The introduction of the GST, he said, has provided a level playing field to small producers, so they are actually liking it.

“There were issues with both the GST network and the process in the initial days but all of that has now been sorted,” the person said.

As for demonetisation, the person said that it actually benefited workers as they were the medium to exchange their owners’ money for which they got commission. The person did admit that their work had come to a stand-still for the first two months after demonetisation due to cash crunch, but said that there was no lasting effect and both the industry and workers have long recovered.

In our conversations with others in the industry, it was clear that the industry only had two issues with the government: one, the lack of an ecosystem that facilitated the export of their perfumes, and, two, the lack of government investment in research and development in their field.

How are those associated with the industry going to vote? Are policy measures like demonetisation and the GST, and the lack of government’s focus on the industry issues that will affect people’s vote?

No, people associated with the industry said in one voice.

“It is a fact that Akhilesh Yadav has done considerable development here,” a person associated with the industry said, who is also a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary. “So the SP would win if development would decide the election but it would not. It’s the gathabandhan’s caste dynamics against Modi’s nationalism. It’s going to be a neck and neck contest, but Dimple seems to have an edge.”

From the perfume hub of Kannauj, we drove to Manimau that houses several cold storage facilities. The owner of one of these facilities agreed to talk to us on the condition of anonymity.

“Kannauj is among the largest producers of potato in India, which we store in our cold storage facilities,” the person said. “We have a symbiotic relationship with the farmer, as our industry is run on their produce, and we get them better prices by storing their produce. We also help them out with financial needs.

As of the demonetisation and the GST, the most impactful policy measures of the Modi government, the person said there was no effect on the industry.

“Ours is an organised industry, so salary to our workers goes directly to their bank accounts, so there were no issues in disbursing salaries,” the person said. “Also, frankly, banks did not implement demonetisation. They supported everyone [in the industry] and there were just issues for the first four-five days. It was okay after that.”

As for the GST, the person said, “Ours is a tax-free industry, so there is no point of GST affecting us. We continue to pay the income tax as before.”

So how are people in the industry going to vote?

“Caste is dominant on all aspects of life here, be it business, education, or even administration, so it is going to be caste that is going to decide the election,’ the person said. “There are never issue-based elections here despite the area being full of many pressing issues.”

“Akhilesh would never lose an election here if people voted on the basis on development, but it is now the caste dynamics versus the Modi factor,” one of the aides of the owner said as we left their office.

Since Ganga flows through Kannauj, we moved to the Mahadevi Ghat from the cold storage units at Manimau, and came across the interesting phenomenon of katris. A katri is a stretch of land in the river that emerges out of water, forming an island, when the water recedes after the monsoon season. People have long practiced agriculture on such stretches of land that emerge out of water in every dry season, growing wheat and melons. While some stretches are small, some stretch up to hundreds and hundreds of bighas.

Farmer with their melons at the Katri (the island in the Ganga) &nbsp;
Farmer with their melons at the Katri (the island in the Ganga)  

People and equipment reach these islands via boats. We also boarded one such boat.

Our boatman, Vikram Kevat, grew wheat on some three bighas of land on the katri. He told us he was going to vote for the BJP in rashtra-hit.

“Dimple lost the last time as well. It was a sauda that won her the seat,” he said.

The major issue with katri farmers like Vikram, as also reported in local media, is that local strongmen often try to grab their produce. When asked if this was an issue for him, Vikram said, “Our lives will go on as usual but the nation will benefit with Modi, so I am going to vote for the BJP.”

We moved to Tirwa, which is one of the five Vidhan Sabha constituencies in the Kannauj Lok Sabha constituency. Tirwa is home to the Rajkeeya Medical College, which Kannauj takes pride in. An entire market has developed around the medical college. We walked into one of the medical stores and found Arun Kushwaha there.

Kushwaha said he would vote for the BJP, but he also did not shy from praising Akhilesh Yadav and criticising the BJP.

“I don’t have any issue in saying that Akhilesh Yadav has done work here. It’s a fact. Had there been no Modi, even I would have voted for Akhilesh,”’ Kushwaha said.

So why is he not voting for Akhilesh Yadav?

“It is because of Modi and his Hindutva that I am going to vote for the BJP,” Kushwaha said.

“In fact, it’s not Modi’s Hindutva, as it is the opposition that fuels Hindutva. When Mayawati asks Muslims to rally together, Hindus wonder why they should not rally together like Muslims. This fuels Hindutva. Their overemphasis on Muslims troubles us. Why do you specifically focus on them? Why not on all of us? How can Muslims, or anyone, have the ‘first right’ on the country’s resources?”

Kushwaha also raised the ‘settlement’ issue.

“The BJP has repeatedly sold Kannauj. Their ‘settlement’ effectively sold our vote last, erasing our electoral existence,” he said with visible anger against the party.

“They had also allowed Dimple unopposed in 2014,” another person at the store said, wishing to not be named. “And who knows if they would not do something of the sort this time?

The ‘katri’ -- the ‘island’ that emerges once water level recedes after monsoon, that stretches up to hundreds of <i>bighas </i>on which farmers grow crops &nbsp;
The ‘katri’ -- the ‘island’ that emerges once water level recedes after monsoon, that stretches up to hundreds of bighas on which farmers grow crops  

As we moved to Bidhuna, another Vidhan Sabha segment of Kannauj, we stopped at a grocery shop. When we asked about the election, Ganesh Gupta, the shopkeeper, said, “It’s not about the BJP, but about Modi. He is the only factor for the BJP. As for the victor, it’s hard to say. Both are in the fight.’

Another person at the shop, who did not wish to be named, said, “There are more schools here than students. Students come from far off places to study here. That is the scale of development. But I will still vote for Modi for the sake of the nation.”

At some distance from the grocery shop, we came across a roadside stall. A sugarcane juice seller was also nearby.

A 22-year-old man from Bhanupur village, Nippu Kumar, having a glass of juice, told us, “Biggest issues here are those of stray cattle and unemployment. My family’s ten bighas have been destroyed by the cattle. There are also no factories around here where we may seek work.”

He said his vote would go to the gathabandhan.

Jyoti Sharma, 18, who ran the nearby stall, said she would like to see Modi return to power. She said he was a good man. "Even their state government is better than the SP government. The law and order situation is better and there has also been strictness in board exams. They are doing a good job.”

Jyoti’s uncle, Ramavtar Sharma, 75, from the Mada village, said that while he supported her niece’s choice, he has not received benefits from Modi’s schemes.

“I have not received my 2,000 rupees despite duly filling the form with the patwari,” he said.

Nippu Kumar also said that he had not received any money and told Sharma that there was no point in supporting Modi. As the two of them got into an argument, we moved on towards Rasulabad.

There has never been communal tension in Rasulabad and there has always been <i>bhaichaara</i>, we were told. This is a mound from across Aejaz’s shop on which the Muslim <i>urs </i> and the Hindu <i>mela </i>is held together. &nbsp;
There has never been communal tension in Rasulabad and there has always been bhaichaara, we were told. This is a mound from across Aejaz’s shop on which the Muslim urs and the Hindu mela is held together.  

We stopped at the market at Khairnagar Mauja, which is a cluster of 14 villages. “We want Akhilesh in the state and Modi in the centre” was a common utterance there.

Modi aur Akhilesh ki koyi takkar nahi, par Akhilesh ke vikas ki bhi koyi takkar nahi hai, (There is no comparison between Modi and Akhilesh, but there is also no comparison of Akhilesh’s development with anything),” a man said, who said he would vote for the BJP.

Kunwar Singh Kushwaha, 60, a farmer, said that he had not received his Rs. 2,000 installments either but he would still vote for Modi in national interest.

“Our Abhinandan came back alive. When had our boys come back alive earlier?” Kushwaha said. “Our local issues will go on but the nation will be safe with him [Modi].”

The distance between Lucknow and Kannauj, some 125 kilometres, is covered in an hour-and-a-half through the Agra-Lucknow Expressway, built by Akhilesh Yadav’s government. As one gets off at Araul and takes the road to the Kannauj city, one sees railway halts on the left and commercial establishments on the right until they get into the city where there is market on both the sides.

In Rasulabad assembly, however, local issues seemed to matter, along with people’s caste.

“Much of the Rasulabad is going with the BJP. Vermas here are firm BJP supporters, and as Kuldeep Singh Yadav has also joined the BJP, some Yadavs may also swing towards the BJP,” Rajesh Chaturvedi, who runs an electricity shop in the town said.

Aijaz, 27, who runs a shop close to Chaturvedi’s, said that while he liked Akhilesh, he had no reason to dislike Modi either.

“There has been no negative effect under the BJP government. There has been no communal violence here. There is bhaichara [brotherhood] in Rasulabad. Demonetisation also affected mostly big people who had lots of cash with them. Small shopkeepers like us were not really affected.”

Aijaz said a section of Muslims, particularly women because of the triple talaq bill, may also vote for the BJP.

Ajay Singh runs an automobile repair shop in Rasulabad. He was resting in shade with a few people when we reached his shop. He started with the issue of stray cattle.

“The issue of stray cattle is real and quite severe but it is not going to change our votes. My vote will go for the BJP.” Ajay said.

While he did not have complaints from Modi, he had complaints from the Yogi Adityanath’s state government.

“The government has no hold over the police and the bureaucracy today. They are completely free to do anything today and this has made even BJP supporters angry. If the state government continues to run like this, I will not vote for the BJP in the next election,” Ajay said.

People have fenced their fields in Kannuaj because of stray cattle menace
People have fenced their fields in Kannuaj because of stray cattle menace

“Modi’s foreign policy has been a success and he should be elected for his foreign and security policy,” Kripal Singh Nirala, a veteran of the Indian Army, said from a chair next to Ajay. Nirala further said that in his village, Brahman Gaon, which comprised of 11 castes, most of the people would vote for the BJP except for Muslims.

HK Khan and Arif Pathan, who were also at the shop, agreed with Ajay and Nirala, and said their votes were also with the BJP.

In Chhibramau assembly segment, people seemed to be equally divided between Modi and the SP. Conversations over tea at stalls suggested Modi factor was running strong but conversations in the market revealed farm distress that was going against the BJP.

“Job generation has been so high in the present government that every family has got two new jobs: that of running after cattle. The son guards the field from cattle during day and the father that in the night,” Sanjeev Shakya, 25, mocked the present situation.

Sunil Shakya, who worked in the agricultural sector, said that the farmer was suffering from all sides and the government had not done anything to help them.

“Input costs have increased, and ever since the implementation of the GST, retailers cheat farmers by selling them material at a higher cost by saying that that the GST has increased the cost, whereas there is no GST on those goods,” Sunil said.

Another young man, Dipankar, said, that his village was particularly affected by digitalisation under the present government.

He said, “Men and women in villages are engaged in tough manual labour and their hands often get affected because of that. Aadhar machines do not read their hands. There is so much issue in Aadhar-based rationing system.”

The ‘magic number’ in Kannauj is around 5.5 lakhs, a journalist based out of Kannauj told us in his office when we were back in Kannauj city. The journalist, who is the bureau chief of a popular national daily, told us that the gathbandhan believes that the electoral math is in their favour, as they believe that the voters of SP and the BSP would come together, forming a Dalit-Muslim-Yadav front against the BJP’s upper caste front, whereas the BJP believes that their nationalist pitch will disturb this electoral math. The reality is not so simple, we were told.

“A lot has changed since 2014, such as questions over Dimple Yadav’s invincibility and the caste affiliations,” the journalist said. “Dimple Yadav barely won in 2014, as a margin of 19,000 votes is nothing for a candidate like her, and that is despite the popular belief of a ‘settlement’ of sorts. Also, the assumption that all of the BSP voters will transfer to Dimple Yadav is troublesome, and that is not just because a lot of the people still have the memory of the fierce SP-BSP rivalry fresh in their minds.”

“The gathabandhan may not form a Dalit-Muslim plank in Kannauj, as is the case in Western Uttar Pradesh,” a journalist from Kannauj told us, who has reported from there for over three decades. “Most of the Muslims in and around Kannauj are Thakurs who converted to Islam in medieval times, and, even as they have now followed Islam for a long time, they have retained their Thakur pride along with a caste consciousness. So Dalits have often faced the ‘upper caste harassment’ at the hands of Muslims in Kannauj, so that’s why the Dalit-Muslim unity here is not guaranteed.”

The bureau chief cited above told us that the BJP is also making all efforts for a higher voter turnout as it will be beneficial to them. He explained that Muslims and Dalits (traditional voters of the gathabandhan) vote en masse, whereas the urban middle class and the upper castes (traditional BJP voters) have a lesser turn out. So, this time, they are focusing on sending more people to voting booths.

In what is a battle of prestige for the Yadav family, and not just because it’s their bahu, that is contesting, it is too close a fight to predict with any certainty.

“Fence sitters, who may just decide the election, would only make up their mind by 28 April, after Modi’s rally on 27 April, and after the SP-BSP had distributed cash among the poor voters to buy their votes,” we were told.

While Akhilesh Yadav’s work in and around Kannauj is quite visible, from the expressway to the medical college, engineering college, and the 24/7 electricity, Narendra Modi’s nationalistic pitch has drawn many who are willing to vote for the national interest and bypass Akhilesh Yadav’s development. Rasthra-hit (national interest) is a common word.

The bottomline at Kannauj is therefore this: the only thing that can beat Akhilesh Yadav’s ‘vikas’ in Kannauj is Narendra Modi’s ‘rashtravaad’, and the only thing that can beat Modi’s ‘rashtravaad’ is the gathabandhan’s ‘jaativaad’.

This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.

Madhur Sharma is a post-graduate student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and a history graduate from Delhi University. He tweets at @madhur_mrt.

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