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UP Elections: BJP’s Bastion Pilibhit Set to Vote on Issues, Not on Caste and Communal Lines

The release of Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra alias Monu, who is accused of mowing down protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, from jail after the Allahabad High Court granted him bail is also likely to impact the BJP’s poll prospects in the region.
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Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh): Has farmers' income doubled as promised? Was justice done to the peasants for the "massacre" in Lakhimpur Kheri? Has corruption on the ground reduced in the past five years? Have the people got relief from the skyrocketing prices of almost everything? Did the youth get employment?

These are a set of counter questions the electorates raise when one asks about the issues Pilibhit will vote for. They say the voters here are largely not going to use their right to franchise on any divisive issues such as Hindu-Muslim or backwards-forward. They will stick to the issues impacting their day-to-day life.

"We wholeheartedly supported the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 2017 Assembly polls, believing the lofty promises and expecting radical change across the state. Sadly, most of the promises turned out to be mere lip service. Our hopes were shattered," Somprakash, 32, at Maitha Saidullaganj village in Pilibhit told NewsClick.

The Terai region of the Bareilly division is going to the polls in the fourth phase of the ongoing UP Assembly elections on February 23.

Pilibhit shares its border with Uttarakhand and is dominated by farmers belonging to the Sikh community. And therefore, agricultural farming is plentiful here. The three controversial farm laws, which were scrapped after a year-long agitation on Delhi doorsteps, are a big poll factor.

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Although the farming community is thankful to the Central government for finally accepting the peasants demand of rolling back the contentious legislation, the saffron party does not appear to reap much with the decision as locals say that “jism ke zakham bhar jaate hain, dil ke nahin (the wounds of the body are healed, not the heart's).”

They say they will not forget water cannons, baton charges and the verbal humiliations they faced when they tried to enter the national capital to stage a sit-in and during the protest.

Sharir par lagi chot ko log bhul jaate hain, lekin dil par lagi chot ko nahin bhulaya ja sakta (People forget the injury inflicted on the body, but the hurt caused to the heart cannot be forgotten),” said 65-year-old Sukhvendra Singh, a resident of Ramnagra in Puranpur block.

It’s not that farmers in the state had only one issue related to the three laws, said Jagtar Singh, adding that they are faced with so many problems — which are yet to be addressed.

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“Procurement of our yields on MSP (minimum support price) is another big issue. The government has not done anything so far despite assuring that a committee of experts will be formed to advise the government on the demand that the MSP be given a legal guarantee. The state is facing an acute crisis of fertilisers. We are forced to buy zinc or wheat seed when we buy DAP and urea from the black market at hiked prices. It's nothing but blackmail, which is happening because the government cannot provide farmers with the necessary fertilisers in time. The rising number of stray cattle has further increased our vulnerability," he said, listing out the challenges the farmers in the region are facing.

The release of Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra alias Monu, who is accused of mowing down protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, from jail after the Allahabad High Court granted him bail is also likely to impact the BJP’s poll prospects in the region.

TIGERS, A ROARING POLL FACTOR

The Terai region, which includes Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich districts, is witnessing a rise in man-animal conflict as a result of encroachment and settlements in and around the forest areas. The fear of the tiger haunts over 300 villages at the edge of the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR). The big cat has killed at least 32 people in these villages since 2017.

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“We are scared to venture out of the village after sunset. The district has reported several incidents of tiger attacks in the recent past. The problem has increased over the years, but it has not been an issue for our leaders. It has become a harrowing ordeal for everyone. Even if dogs bark, people run for a cover,” said Ranjo Pradhan, the village head of Piparia Karam.

Located on the India-Nepal border in the Terai, Pilibhit has a large area under reserved forest. The then Samajwadi Party government declared the forest a tiger reserve in 2014.

OTHER ISSUES AT PLAY

Apart from the significant issues of MSP, shortage of fertilisers and stray cattle, Pilibhit has several other problems — which may cause a dent in the ruling party’s support base.

The roads connecting the villages to the town are in bad shape. A stroll to the villages of the district will make you realise that there are no potholes on roads, but roads are in potholes.

The road leading to the divisional headquarters of Bareilly is in measurable condition. Thousands of people go to Bareilly from here every day and face many problems, but no one listens to them.

The health infrastructure has collapsed. The district had no adequate arrangements to contain the deadly second wave Covid-19 outbreak that resulted in many deaths. The construction of a proposed medical college is stuck in balance.

The cooperative sugar mill in Majhola has been closed for a long time. No new factory has been set up in the district in the past five years.

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Youth are unemployed. Efforts to give them jobs are on paper only.

People have long been demanding a good government college in the area as students have to go to Bareilly to study beyond class 12.

Corruption is also among the issues here, but no party has included it in its manifesto, nor is any party or candidate ready to utter even a word on it.

Wherever people go, they are looted. Be it the police station, tehsil, court or any government office, no work is done anywhere without paying a bribe. People allege that corruption has doubled.

Issues concerning people are of no importance to all parties and their candidates. The political outfits contesting the elections are indulging in a blame game only. As a result, the voters are feeling cheated.

VARUN GANDHI’S CONSPICUOUS ABSENCE

Creating a piquant situation for the BJP, the party’s MP Varun Gandhi is absent from the campaign in his constituency, Pilibhit.

Varun, and his mother Maneka, have a significant support base in the constituency. Both have won the seat with huge margins.

Maneka in 2014 and Varun in 2019 Lok Sabha elections got over 5 lakh votes each in Lok Sabha elections. While Union minister Maneka won the seat in 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014 Lok sabha elections twice each as Janata Dal, independent and a BJP candidate, Varun bagged the seat twice.

The BJP is locked in a direct fight with the Samajwadi Party for the Pilibhit city, Barkhera and Puranpur seats. In Bisalpur, though, there is a triangular contest between the BJP, BSP and the SP.

In 2017, the BJP bagged all five seats here. The SP, in 2012, had snapped up four of the five seats while BJP could win only one.

Approx caste wise distribution of the district is as follows: Muslims — 4.5 lakh, SCs — 3.5 lakh, OBCs — 5.5 lakh, upper-caste — 4 lakh and others — 8000.

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