Kannauj/Sitapur/Unnao: Yeh chhot toh dil par lagi hai (this is a wound that struck the heart),” says 35-year-old Avanish Yadav from Tirwa town, describing the bitter battle in the first family of Uttar Pradesh. “I feel this power tussle within the family was good because it has established the dominance of Akhilesh Yadav which was essential before polls. Our support is not for Samajwadi Party (SP), it is for Akhilesh Yadav,” he added.
Avanish Yadav represents part of the support base which the Uttar Pradesh chief minister has successfully cultivated over the last two years through his pitch for development and promise of clean and efficient governance. That he belongs to Kannauj, a traditional stronghold of the Samajwadi Party and has a singular preference for Akhilesh Yadav and not the family, is even more significant. The dominance of the first family of Samajwadi Party can be understood from the fact that the Lok Sabha seat has been represented by party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, his son, Akhilesh Yadav, and is currently occupied by Dimple Yadav, wife of Akhilesh Yadav.
Despite this visible groundswell of support, it won’t be a smooth ride for the incumbent with its key challenger Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) mounting a serious challenge in the Samajwadi Party stronghold of central Uttar Pradesh (UP) which goes to polls on Sunday; and then, there is the unpredictable influence of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its loyal voter base.
The outcome of the third phase is crucial for all three contestants. For Samajwadi Party, which is contesting in alliance with the Congress, it is to emerge in pole position, while for BJP it is equally important to come a close second; in turn, it is for BSP to upstage both front-runners and turn the present electoral calculations on its head.
The Akhilesh factor
By making development central to his electoral pitch, focusing on youth and emerging victorious in a bitter family feud for supremacy, Akhilesh Yadav has carved out an appealing electoral narrative for himself.
The general refrain across these districts is that Yadav is an “achha ladka” (good boy) who has worked hard as the CM and is likely to do more if voted back to power. Even a section of the BJP and BSP find his appeal difficult to ignore.
“In the last few elections, we have been supporting Behenji (Mayawati) but we genuinely feel that this time, there is no option other than Akhilesh Yadav. Never before did roads reach our villages; we feel he is one CM who has worked for his people,” said Prem Kumar Pasi, a young farm labourer from Amjadpur village in Sitapur district.
However, there are others who criticize Yadav’s rule as one which saw a deteriorating law and order situation, ‘unchecked’ police overreach and rampant corruption in the lower bureaucracy—generating an anti-incumbency sentiment which could politically benefit the BJP. Also, the big question is whether the CM can convert his personal popularity into votes for the party—which PM Narendra Modi did so effectively in 2014.
“Things went from bad to worse in Akhilesh Yadav’s term. Now, the situation is such that not one FIR gets filed if you don’t know any local police or politician. I feel Uttar Pradesh is looking from change which only Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP can bring,” said Babloo Tiwari, a farmer and trader from Mangarwara town in Unnao.
Ramu Katiyar, a 32-year-old farmer from Kurmikhera Kalan village in Bilhaur has been a loyal BJP supporter for years. However, since 8 November, when the government demonetized high value currencies, Katiyar has shifted loyalties.
“Demonetisation has hit the farmers the worst and there was no relief measure announced for us. It was announced at the peak of potato sowing season and now due to severe cash crunch, there are no buyers for our stock,” said Katiyar.
While the BJP is positioning demonetisation as a fight against corruption and black money, on the ground in central Uttar Pradesh, voters, particularly poor and lower middle class, are upset with the Union government as they feel the move caused them hardship and disruption to the rural economy.
“Iss sarkaar ne humein apne paise ke liye line mei laa kar khada kar diya. (This government made us stand in line for our own money). Where till Diwali (referring to October end) we got nearly Rs350-400 a day for our labour, now we get anywhere between Rs70-90. Who is responsible for this? They say we need to get Aadhaar, PAN card, we are ready for it but if we stand in line for four days to get these made, who will feed our family?,” said Shambhu, a daily wage labourer from Sidhauli village in Sitapur.
Will demonetisation be BJP’s undoing? Or will Modi’s charisma overcome this setback as well as the feisty challenge put up by Akhilesh Yadav?