Firozabad: The BJP is pulling out all stops to bring Firozabad, a pet constituency of the Mulayam Singh Yadav clan, into the saffron fold. After party president Rajnath Singh’s rally on Sunday, the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is scheduled to address a rally in Firozabad on Monday.
BJP's candidate SP Singh Baghel is a former Lok Sabha MP who quit the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2009 after he was denied re-nomination by his party from Firozabad to accommodate Akhilesh Yadav.
Baghel has fought and lost Firozabad twice on a BSP ticket since he quit SP but this time he is banking heavily on the ‘Modi wave’ to settle an old score with his former party.
In 2009, he lost to Akhilesh. In 2014, Baghel faces another close member of the clan - Akshay, the 27-year-old son of Mulayam’s brother and party national general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav.
As someone who has won the constituency on a SP ticket thrice, Baghel is familiar with the iron-like grip the SP has over villages that fall in the Yadav belt. But he isn’t shying away from taking the battle to Yadav territory.
On the final days of polling, he has taken his campaign to an interior village called Sehaspur, where houses and shops are marked by SP flags. In this village, say Baghel supporters, even vehicles of other parties are not allowed to enter or are attacked by SP party members.
"I want them to know that I am not ignoring them and that I am here to ask for their support," says Baghel, shortly after addressing a small crowd gathered at the village temple.
Asked about how his campaign was going, he says, "It is going very smoothly. I have won among the people but the government's 'goonda gardi' is at work. I am fighting the party chief’s nephew and the son of a senior party leader in this election. There are four seats in Uttar Pradesh where members of the family are fighting. It is my appeal to the Election Commission not to treat these seats as ordinary seats and ensure that free and fair elections are conducted here."
Keenly aware of the massive push the 'Modi for PM' has given him, Baghel is all praise for Modi and is hard-selling the 'Gujarat model of development' to his electorate as the answer the constituency’s backwardness and unemployment crisis.
"When Modi addresses Firozabad on Monday, he will convert the wave into a storm. And on polling day there will be a Modi tsunami," says Baghel, who is battling a credibility crisis because of the frequency with which he has changed parties since he left the SP in 2009.
He insists he didn't him leave the party but rather it was "Mulayam Singh who left me when he denied me the ticket". Baghel who was elected to the Rajya Sabha as a BSP candidate in 2012 made yet another ideological leap when he joined the BJP last month earning Mayawati's wrath which could cost him the Dalit vote.
Dismissing his opponent from the BJP, SP’s star candidate Akshay Yadav says, "No one wants to support a back-stabber. First he was with the SP, then the BSP and now he has joined the BJP. Who can trust a man who was left with a Rajya Sabha seat? If he gets something better, he will leave BJP too."
Holed up at the party office is Sirsaganj, an assembly constituency in Firozabad where Mulayam is expected to address a rally on Sunday, the young Yadav is making sure party workers are prepared for polling day.
Speaking about his chances, he says, "There is no contest to the Samajwadi Party in this election. There is no Modi wave in Firozabad. For the last one-and-a-half years, I have been visiting villages here, meeting people. The SP government has undertaken multiple development schemes in Firozabad since it took over the reins two years ago."
Asked what made him so confident that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the Dimple Yadav fiasco of 2009 (by-election), he says, "The circumstances were different then. There is no question of being afraid now. People have realised that can no government has performed better. We go to every village and we leave no issue untouched. We have put in a lot of hard work here in the last one-and-a-half years and the results will show."
Laying down the electoral math that is behind Akshay's confidence, Hari Om, SP's MLA from Sirsaganj says, while exaggerating the numbers slightly, "There are 2 lakh Muslims and 4 lakh Yadavs in Firozabad. This is our bank vote. The Muslims and Yadavs are united behind the SP. Which other party has this large a vote-bank? And we are getting votes from other communities too." (Firzobad has 16 lakh voters and the population of Yadav and Muslim voters are estimated at 3 lakh and 1.8 lakh respectively).
According to local reporters the 'Modi wave' in Firozabad hasn’t yet managed to take the edge off Akshay’s ‘development’ campaign.
While some voters say an SP win is most likely, they are not ruling out the BJP either.
"We cannot say the BJP is not in the game. The election is between the SP and the BJP. On one hand, Akshay has been working here for a year now and has touched the hearts of the people. While on the other hand people are in awe of Modi and everyone knows about him. But most people here including me feel that Akshay has a clear shot at victory," says Yogendra Yadav, who runs a dhaba in Shikohabad, a Yadav stronghold.
The main factor working in Akshay’s favour in this election, says Mayank Bhatnagar, a social activist and administrator of a senior secondary school, is that his party is running the state government.
"He is from the ruling party and that is why people are hoping that development will take place here if he wins. Also, Akshay has been in touch with the voters and has been going door-to-door trying to convince people that he will ensure development if he wins," says Bhatnagar.
The BJP, on the other hand, is banking on consolidation of the Hindu vote in the name of Modi, he says.
"It is a close fight between the SP and BJP. The upper-castes are going with the BJP. Even if one per cent of the Yadav vote shifts, the SP could be in trouble. But the danger lies more in the shifting of the Dalit vote. If the Dalits see that their own candidate is not strong enough to defeat the SP candidate, they could vote in favour the BJP and this could be crucial in deciding who wins. But still, I would say, the first choice for most will be the ruling party," says Bhatnagar.
Is there any chance of Yadav vote shifting? "Yadavs are angry with the SP because Mulayam Singh was getting too close to the Muslim community. But in Firozabad, that anger is not there because Akshay has won the confidence of the people here, irrespective of the community," says Yogendra, the dhaba owner.
Given the limited choice before the Muslim community when it comes to choosing a party that can defeat the BJP, SP’s confidence is bagging the chunk of the Muslim vote is not misplaced.
The general opinion on the streets of the Firozabad’s bangle markets is in favour of SP. Says Rizwan Hussain, a bangle-store owner, "The support here is largely for SP. Yes, we are upset with what happened in Muzaffarnagar but in order to defeat Modi, we are rallying behind Akshay."
But there is also simmering anger among a section of the Muslims here who say they will not vote SP even if it means the BJP coming to power.
In a hard hitting attack on the SP and its dangerous brand of politics, Umar Farooq, a bangle-maker says, "We've had enough of Mulayam Singh. There are no jobs, no water, no electricity. They are using Modi to win the election. If Gujarat has a Modi, Mulayam is the Modi of Uttar Pradesh. Here there are not one but many Modis. All the goondas are with SP and they dictate who people should vote for. In Mayawati’s time, there was no goonda raj. I prefer the BSP."
Updated Date: Apr 20, 2014 16:49:55 IST