Lucknow: Even before Election Commission sounded the poll bugle for the 2022 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in full-throttle election campaign mode. Prime minister Narendra Modi held back to back rallies in the Purvanchal region and dedicated a series of welfare projects.
On Monday, PM Modi inaugurated nine medical colleges virtually in the Siddharthnagar district, to be built at the cost of Rs 2,329 crore. The medical colleges are located in Siddharthnagar, Etah, Hardoi, Pratapgarh, Fatehpur, Deoria, Ghazipur, Mirzapur and Jaunpur districts. This was followed by the launch of Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission in Varanasi — one of the largest pan-India schemes for strengthening healthcare infrastructure in his parliamentary constituency. He also announced infrastructure projects (roads, flyovers) worth Rs 5,200 crores for Varanasi.
PM Modi kicked off his poll campaign from Varanasi on July 15, where he dedicated projects worth Rs 1,500 crores to the people of Kashi. Next, on October 20, he landed in Kushinagar, where he inaugurated an international airport. Apart from this, he dedicated development projects worth Rs 478 crores as a gift to the people of Purvanchal. He also participated in a 3-day urban conclave in the state capital, Lucknow, on October 5.
In the upcoming days, PM Modi will launch Gorakhpur Fertiliser Factory and Gorakhpur AIIMS. He will inaugurate Purvanchal Expressway and Gorakhpur Link Expressway in the last week of December. In his speeches, PM Modi attacked arch rival Samajwadi Party (SP) and appealed to people to make BJP's Mission-2022 a success by listing the achievements of the central and state governments.
Political analysts believe that by choosing the Purvanchal region to inaugurate the projects, PM Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath are wooing voters in the poll-bound UP.
BD Shukla, a political commentator based out of UP, says that BJP is fully aware that the more firmly Purvanchal remains in its grasp, the easier it will be to return to power in the state.
According to Shukla, the ongoing farmers' movement in western UP has dented BJP's chances to some extent.
"This is the reason Purvanchal has become an epicentre for welfare projects. PM Modi visited the region five times in the last couple of months and announced various welfare schemes."
Purvanchal contributes around 30% of seats to the 403-member UP Assembly. During the 2017 UP assembly polls, BJP won with a thumping majority in Purvanchal, winning 69 of the 102 assembly seats. On the other hand, Samajwadi Party got 13, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) eight, Congress one and the others got 11. The vote share of SP was 21.58%, while BSP received 24.19% votes.
Similarly, in the Awadh region, BJP posted a strong performance by winning 93 out of 121 assembly seats. On the other hand, Samajwadi Party managed to secure 10, Bahujan Samaj Party got eight, Congress four and others got six seats. The vote share of SP was 21.81%, while BSP got 21.93%votes.
Veteran journalist Ram Dutt Tripathi sees Modi's visit to Purvanchal as BJP realising that its position in western UP is shaky due to the ongoing farmers' protest.
"Purvanchal covers the eastern expanse of UP. It is also considered one of the most densely populated areas of India. The number of seats in Purvanchal is more in comparison with western UP. Hence, BJP's activities in Purvanchal are more."
Commenting on the considerable share of votes garnered by SP and BSP in Purvanchal and Awadh in 2017, Tripathi said: "The vote share of SP and BSP is the same. This time, BSP's activities on the ground are not visible like other parties. Its leaders are joining SP. Therefore, the fight is between BJP and SP. But the way the Congress party is working on the ground will surely dent BJP as the core voter of Congress is the same as BJP- mainly upper castes. If Congress emerges, BJP will lose its voters. The minority vote is very tactical. They will vote for whosoever is in the winning position."
He went on to add that the alliance between Congress and SP had failed in the last assembly election because Congress voters had shifted to BJP. A similar thing happened when SP had allied with BSP for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In both the polls, BJP emerged victorious in the state.
"If they fight independently and look forward to bringing smaller parties, there will be higher chances for BJP to lose the elections."
When questioned on whether the farmers' movement will impact the two regions (Purvanchal and Awadh), the veteran journalist said that there is not much mobilisation in these regions as most farmers are marginal farmers. Their crucial concerns are inputs costs on crops and electricity rates. Tripathi further said that there is a feeling among peasants in these regions that the ruling government is not paying heed to their plight.
"Despite big announcements and promises, many farmers still find themselves at the receiving end after failing to sell their paddy crops. In one such incident that has sparked criticism of the UP government, a farmer set his yield on fire after struggling to sell it for the last 15 days," Tripathi said.
It is commonly believed in UP that the path to Lucknow goes through Purvanchal. In 2017, BJP won 106 out of 156 assembly seats in the 26 districts of the region. SP had won 85 seats in 2012 and went on to form the government. A similar thing happened in 2007 when BSP secured over 70 seats. However, data suggest that in the last three decades, the electorate of Purvanchal and Awadh region has not always been with any one party.
CAN SP-SBSP ALLIANCE UNSETTLE BJP'S CHANCES?
Om Prakash Rajbhar, president of Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), a former ally of the BJP who served in Yogi Adityanath cabinet until 2019, has announced that his party will ally with SP for the 2022 UP Assembly Elections.
Rajbhar has also called a public rally at Haldharpur ground in Mau on October 27. Akhilesh Yadav is expected to share the stage with Rajbhar as a chief guest.
Experts believe that SBSP's alliance with SP could shape up a new MBC-Yadav combination, potentially troubling BJP.
"In the assembly elections, the margin of defeat or victory can be as less as 1000-2000 votes. Yadav will gain by allying with Rajbhar in Purvanchal. Similarly, SP's alliance with RLD in western UP will also help the party."
Rajbhar has a hold of over 18- 20% of Rajbhar community voters in Purvanchal. The party influences more than 125 assembly seats of Purvanchal, including Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Azamgarh divisions.
In 2017, SBSP had won four assembly seats as a BJP ally. Rajbhar was also elected from Zahoorabad (Ghazipur). BJP accommodated him in the state government as a cabinet minister for the Department of Backward Classes Welfare and Disabled People Development. Later, Rajbhar had parted ways with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections because of differences over seat allocation,
Experts also believe that the Lakhimpur Kheri incident will not be forgotten soon, at least not until the upcoming UP assembly election. The Yogi government took some immediate steps to not let the issue impact its chances in the forthcoming elections. But the opposition would try to mobilise the farmers' votes around this issue.
As per senior journalist Sharat Pradhan, BJP has realised that western UP is not going with them. Therefore, they are holding back to back rallies and announcing many welfare schemes for the people of Purvanchal. It remains to be seen if these projects would get BJP more votes in the state.
"People are aware that these announcements are being made only on paper. It doesn't translate to the ground as such. Due to staff shortage, the Nephrology Department of Lucknow medical college has been closed for the last five years. How will the government handle medical colleges in every district when it can not recruit staff to run a single department? The staff shortages would compromise the quality. Inaugurating medical colleges and building expressways is not going to help the ruling government," Pradhan said.
Replying to a question about Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's impact on the elections, Pradhan said, "If you look at her strategy, she is speaking about atrocities against Dalits. At the same time, she is trying to forge a bond with Brahmins while being less vocal on Muslim issues. She knows that it will polarise Muslims, and they might get divided into Congress and SP. Similarly, Yadav is more concerned with OBCs and Muslims. This strategy is going to harm BJP this time. Rest, farmers' movement in Awadh region will make an impact due to Lakhimpur Kheri incident, but in Purvanchal, it won't have an impact."
He further said that if Yadav is more active on the ground like Vadra, it will benefit his party, but if he disappears as he does sometimes, BJP will gain.