Who Will Win Lucknow, the Heart of Uttar Pradesh?
Uttar Pradesh was the original laboratory to implement the Hindutva experiment. Much before the Gujarat genocide of 2002, India’s most populous state was a playground for the RSS goal of a Hindu Rashtra in the pre-Babri Masjid demolition period.
“Uttar Pradesh is an old hunting ground for the Hindutva brigade. Lucknow, a city of tehzeeb and varied cultures, faced an avalanche of this divisive politics and hate discourse from the eighties in the pre-Babri Masjid demolition period. We preceded the Gujarat genocide by over a decade,” recalls Prof Roop Rekha Verma, former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University, who was then a young college lecturer.
Verma presently runs Saajhi Duniya, which works amongst the very poor. A sprightly 78, Verma is out every morning visiting the bastis in and around Lucknow, which will cast their vote on February 23. “I visit areas where minorities live as also the very poor. I spend my time trying to consolidate the anti-BJP vote,” said Verma.
Verma is a well-known figure in Lucknow, having spent over five decades taking up the cause of the underprivileged and marginalised.
“Lucknow has hard core Hindutva groups who have been voting them to power in successive elections. But inflation and lack of hospital facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic have disillusioned many of their core vote bank. If they can combine with the large numbers of young people who are angry with the Yogi Adityanath government over lack of jobs, the Hindutva forces will be defeated,” believes Verma.
The fourth phase of polling on 23 February will decide the fate of 624 candidates in 59 assembly segments in Lucknow, Pilibhit, Rae Bareli, Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, Unnao, Sitapur, Hardoi and Fatehpur. Of these, in the 2017 Assembly election, the Bharatiya Janata Party had won 51 while four had gone to the Samajwadi Party and three to the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Among the prominent candidates fighting from the Sarojini Nagar seat from Lucknow is the former Enforcement Directorate officer Rajeshwar Singh fielded against Abhishek Mishra, a minister in the Samajwadi government. Another key contest will be the Lucknow East seat that the BJP won in 1991. The BJP leader Bhagwati Prasad Shukla won here during the Ram Janambhoomi movement, and two years later, Shukla won this seat though the BJP was no longer in power. Five years later, Kalraj Mishra won the Lucknow East seat in 2012 even though the Samajwadi Party swept the polls.
Ashutosh Tandon, a minister in the Yogi government, is contesting from here this time around while Uttar Pradesh law minister Brijesh Pathak faces the Samajwadi party candidate from the Lucknow Central seat. Rae Bareli, considered a Congress bastion, will see the BJP field Aditi Singh who had earlier contested from here on a Congress ticket in 2017.
Retired Inspector-General of Uttar Pradesh Police SR Darapuri says, “Lucknow city Centre will see the BJP do well as they have a base there, but they will not do well in the rural parts of Lucknow.”
Darapuri, who is also the national spokesman of the All India People’s Front, which has fielded two candidates, said, “I am convinced that Mayawati’s core constituency, the Jatavs and Dalits have moved away from her and will opt to vote for the Samajwadi Party.”
“I believe this is going to be the last election for Mayawati. A large percentage of Sikh farmers in the Terai, Lakhimpur Kheri and Pilibhit support the Samajwadi Party, and the Hindu farmers are influenced by their ideas,” he said.
Elaborating further, Darapuri said, “We will see the voting pattern of western Uttar Pradesh repeat, and as we move eastward, where there is a larger percentage of Dalits and backward classes, the situation will get even more difficult for the ruling regime.”
Uttar Pradesh is in no mood to forget the atrocities committed against the Dalits, especially the increasing number of atrocities, including the rapes and murder of Dalit women and girls.
The National Crime Records Bureau data up to 2020 confirms the increase in crime, dacoity, rape, molestation and kidnapping, putting Uttar Pradesh second after Madhya Pradesh in crime ratios.
How Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government handled of Covid-19 and post-Covid economic crisis is even more appalling. Health activists refer to the recent Supreme Court order last week asking the Uttar Pradesh health department to provide details of a large number of vacancies in state-run hospitals across the state’s 75 districts.
“We want details of the extent of vacancies,” is what the Supreme Court has demanded to know following the exposure about how the hospital in Sambhal has 60% vacancy of medical and paramedical staff,” said a health activist who did not wish to be identified.
The Congress party has made its presence felt in the elections in Uttar Pradesh. Sadly, this is not likely to transfer into votes.
Sadaf Jafri, the Congress candidate contesting from Lucknow Central, is confident she will sweep to victory though no woman has won this seat earlier. Unable to match the money and muscle power of her rivals, Jafri claims she has concentrated on the business of “winning people’s hearts”.
Among the issues she is focusing on is the lack of health facilities, including a few mohalla clinics and understaffed hospitals in this seat. Jafri also expresses concern that there is little accountability from police officials dictated by the “thok-do [smash them]" and “badla lenge [we will extract revenge]” mindset.
Shahira Naim, a former journalist who works with the NGO Humsafar, believes that with all the state and central institutions supporting the ruling regime, “It is an unequal playing field, so the Opposition parties are working much harder to make their presence felt.” Several political parties, including Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary, have expressed concern that the 24 lakh elderly voters over the age of 80 in Uttar Pradesh should not be “manipulated”.
Naim’s other concern is how citizens’ rights have been subverted under the current regime. “The poor have been given free rations, toilets and finance to assist in building a house. This is not new. It has been done under all the past regimes. But the Yogi sarkar insists on making the poor feel like they are being given charity and are beneficiaries, who must reciprocate by voting for them,” she said.
The elation in the Sangh Parivar in 2017 created a sense of hubris. With the Prime Minister and Chief Minister as their mascots, they were convinced their winning streak would never end. The situation has changed dramatically, and it seems the BJP karyakartas or workers) can sense this.
Prof Verma summed up the situation, saying, “The best placed plans can go awry and I am confident that the RSS dream to make Uttar Pradesh the catalyst that would convert the whole country to a Hindu Rashtra will be halted soon.”
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.
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