A newly-built neat glass facade of grey, with blue and red outlines, welcomes visitors and passengers at Ghazipur railway station. The entire premise is clean, everything around seems to be in order. The cleanliness and hygiene there is somewhat contrary to what one would otherwise imagine about this supposedly backward district of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The drive from Varanasi to Ghazipur through an under-construction four-lane highway, good quality roads inside the district, construction of a massive rail-cum-road bridge near Ghazipur, construction of a sports complex and other such examples give a sense that this region is lately seeing substantive and visible developmental activities. At this juncture though, the issue here is more than what transformation the district has undergone.
After driving through the better part of the district and talking to a cross-section of people of various castes, communities and belonging to different social strata, one realises Ghazipur is no ordinary constituency, not because this is represented by the Union communications minister who is also MoS in Railways but because this constituency could be taken as a bellwether constituency for almost the entire eastern UP, which goes to the polls in the sixth and seventh rounds of polling. Its polling pattern would be indicative of which way the outcome from this region could largely go.
If this election in 80 seats of UP — more so in the remaining 27 seats in the last two phases — is about social arithmetic as the gathbandhan supporters of SP-BSP-RLD claim, its candidate in Ghazipur, Afzal Ansari (brother of jailed don Mukhtar Ansari) should be sitting pretty. In a constituency of 18.51 lakh voters, Yadavs constitute around 3.60 lakh, Muslims 1.50 lakh and Dalits 2.60 lakh. Going purely by arithmetic, the ganthbandhan candidate, as many of coalition supporters claim, would begin from a base vote of around seven lakh votes.
Manoj Sinha’s supporters, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of making such claims. He is Bhumihar by caste, a community which has only 55 thousand voters in the constituency and as such, he can be taken as a caste-neutral candidate in this constituency. Sinha’s strength lie elsewhere. He and his supporters have to bank on the developmental work done by him and Modi’s appeal to ordinary voters in the area.
He stressed and, to an extent, rightly so, that the focus on development is applicable not just to Ghazipur but to several other constituencies where BJP and SP-BSP-RLD are in direct fight. A visit to Ghazipur makes it clear that Sinha has performed as an MP from the area. He had also spent his weekends, barring when he was occupied with party and governmental assignments, in his constituency and has a fair degree of rapport with people in the area. Ansari lives there and has earlier represented it in Lok Sabha but has no track record of undertaking any developmental activity. However, he is considered to be a strong muscle man, whose name is given as a reference by his supporters to settle an issue.
After visiting some Yadav-dominated villages, like Sikandarpur and Damodarpur, one got the sense that the protagonists of gathbandhan had a misplaced notion that Yadavs are voting en-bloc for their candidate. Take Nandlal Yadav of Damodarpur, a man in his early forties who has his own milk product business. He told Firstpost, “Yadavs are cycle voters and supporters. We would have voted for gathbandhan if there was a Samajwadi Party candidate, even if he was a non-Yadav, we would though have liked a Yadav candidate. But trust me, Yadavs here, at least majority of them here and elsewhere are not going to vote for a Muslim of Bahujan Samaj Party. How can we forget what had happened in Mau and at some other places? Akhilesh (Yadav) made a mistake by aligning with Mayawati. He would in any case have won enough number of seats in these elections, so why have an alliance with BSP, an alliance where Mayawati has the upper hand?”
He then went on listing how schemes of the Modi government have benefitted him and his village, as there was electricity supply to each household, toilet, gas cylinder and Rs 4,000 (two installments of Rs 2,000 under Kisan Samman Nidhi) credited in their bank account. Sinha has done a lot of work. He added that Sinha deserved to win and Ansari to lose.
In neighbouring Sikandarpur, a group of persons assembled at Vijay Yadav’s house echoed the same feeling. Did that mean there was a polarisation on communal (Hindu/Muslim) lines? Their response was “partly yes”.
Then, there are places like Gosandepur inhabited by Binds, which are categorised as extremely backward castes. Their present needs are far basic. Year after year, they face problems due to River Ganga either changing its course or flooding during the monsoon in their area. Their prime concern and demand is construction of embankment so that they have a permanent place to live, a village which they and their future generations could call their home, native place.
People out there are inclined to vote for a person whom they would think can address their concerns. Suresh Bind says Manoj Sinha has already taken the initiative, done some work and has promised to get it done in his next term (if he gets elected). He didn’t like the way the gathbandhan placed their total faith on numbers (caste arithmetic).
That’s the reason why Modi is stretching out the number of rallies he has to hold in each state. People in eastern UP are hoping that Modi would spend a good deal of time in his own constituency Varanasi and neighbouring areas after the next few days.
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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 19:55:25 IST