First phase of LS polls: Will Modi-Yogi popularity override caste equations in UP?

Lucknow: The wave of Prime Minister Modi’s popularity, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s stern dealing with the law & order situation and the euphoria over the Ram temple has started overriding the caste equations in Uttar Pradesh.

The state has always witnessed the caste factor come into play whenever elections are to be held, but now it is the popularity of PM Modi and CM Yogi Adityananth that is overtaking all other issues.

In the first phase of elections in western UP, where normally the voting pattern of Muslims and Dalits decides the fate of candidates, this time there is a palpable difference because all that seems to be working is the Modi and Yogi factor.

The performance of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidates in this phase will also decide the party’s future.

The BSP has tweaked its strategy when it fielded candidates from castes who, otherwise, are believed to be the core voters of the BJP but apparently, candidates are unable to wean away these votes from the BJP’s bag.

For example, in 2014, Muzaffarnagar was won by BJP’s Sanjeev Baliyan by a low margin of 6,400 votes, and Meerut was won by BJP’s Rajendra Agrawal by a margin of around 4,700 votes.

In Muzaffarnagar, where the Muslims form around 30 per cent of the electorate, the BSP has fielded Dara Singh Prajapati, an OBC hoping to corner the votes of his community as well as the party’s traditional Dalit community.

However, the BJP has gained ground in both these constituencies and caste factors have receded into the background.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Meerut and Yogi Adityanath’s rally in Muzaffarnagar has turned the tide completely in BJP’s favour.

In Meerut, the BSP has Deovrat Tyagi, a Brahmin against BJP’s Arun Govil, who played Lord Rama in the serial ‘Ramayana’. The BSP nominee is eyeing the support of around 50,000 ‘Tyagi’ voters in Meerut, apart from Dalit and Muslim votes, but sources claim that upper castes and Dalits are preparing to vote for BJP this time.

In an interesting development, this time, the Muslim mood towards the BJP has also softened to an extent and even Dalits are veering towards BJP after being disillusioned by Mayawati’s indecision.

Observers believe that, unlike Assembly elections, the Muslim voters will be more tactful this time. They will not blindly choose between the BSP and the SP-Congress alliance but will weigh the benefits they have received from the BJP governments at the centre and state.

Haji Ikhlaq, a trader in Meerut, says, “The BJP is no longer untouchable for us. We have received the benefits of their welfare schemes and there is no reason why we will not vote for them. Muslims are breaking the earlier mindset and the change will be visible in these elections.”

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2017 Assembly elections, the minority voters supported candidates of both SP and BSP leading to the division of votes. The BJP got the maximum number of 71 Lok Sabha in 2014 and 312 Assembly seats in 2022.

In 2022, the minority vote consolidated towards the Samajwadi Party, but it could not cross the 112-seat mark.

It is only the Jatavs among Dalits in the west UP region who are likely to remain loyal to Mayawati.

In Saharanpur, BJP’s Raghav Lakhan Pal, a Brahmin is pitted against Congress-SP alliance candidate Imran Masood and BSP’s Majid Ali, one of the richest candidates in the fray.

Imran Masood is facing a tough challenge from BSP, which could make it easier for BJP to sail through to victory.

In Meerut, SP candidate and former mayor Sunita Verma, a Jatav, is likely to draw support from the voters of her caste which will dent BSP’s base.

In Nagina (SC), Azad Samaj Party chief Chandra Shekhar Azad is likely to make some dent in BSP’s vote bank.

“If Chandra Shekhar dents BSP, the victory run for BJP will be much easier,” said a local leader.

BJP’s Kunwar Sarvesh Singh, in Moradabad, could find it easier to reach the victory post as BSP’s Israr Saifi is locked in a crucial battle of Muslims and Dalit votes with SP’s Ruchi Veera.

However, in Pilibhit, BSP is not a major factor.

In Pilibhit, Lodh Rajputs or Lodhs would be the deciding factor. It is the vote from this community which will decide who will have the last laugh – BJP’s Jitin Prasada or SP’s Bhagwat Saran Gangwar.

Jitin Prasada, meanwhile, is riding high on the Modi wave and the rallies by the Prime Minister and Yogi Adityanath have strengthened his position in the past week.

In Rampur, a lot will depend on how enthusiastic the voters are on the day of voting. There is a clear division of Muslim votes after SP leader Mohd Azam Khan refused to accept the party‘s official candidate Muhibullah Nadwi. His supporters are throwing their weight behind Zeeshan Khan of BSP.

The BJP candidate Ghanshyam Lodhi stands safe in his position.

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