Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Varanasi, his parliamentary constituency. This is his sixth visit to eastern Uttar Pradesh, more commonly referred to as Purvanchal, in eight weeks. This shows the Bharatiya Janata Party’s increased focus on eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is also the political home turf of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
On October 20, PM Modi inaugurated an international airport in Kushinagar. On October 25, PM Modi inaugurated nine medical colleges in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
On November 16, PM Modi inaugurated Purvanchal Expressway, a mega-highway project to link eastern Uttar Pradesh districts with the central part of the state.
On December 7, PM Modi launched a number of development projects in eastern Uttar Pradesh — including an AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) and a fertiliser plant in Gorakhpur.
PM Modi then inaugurated the Saryu canal project connecting Gonda, Bahraich and Balrampur districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh on December 11 before undertaking his two-day visit to Varanasi for the Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor project.
WHY EASTERN UTTAR PRADESH
Purvanchal is key to who wins the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, likely in February-March 2022. The BJP had fared well in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election winning over 115 of about 165 seats across 28 districts in the region.
While its dominance in Uttar Pradesh took a hit in the 2019 Lok Sabha election compared to the 2014 parliamentary polls, the BJP still won most seats. In terms of assembly coverage, the BJP suffered losses. The BJP led in 274 assembly segments in the 2019 polls. It had won 315 seats in Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in 2017.
This explains why the BJP is focusing on eastern Uttar Pradesh to mobilise support ahead of the assembly polls. The focus looks sharper given that there is a sense that the BJP might lose votes in western Uttar Pradesh a region with about 100 assembly seats due to over a year-long protest against the farm reforms laws.
A SAMAJWADI PARTY PUSH
However, it is not only the BJP that is concentrating on eastern Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party (SP) is covering grounds in eastern Uttar Pradesh by cobbling tie-ups with smaller and caste-based parties.
SP president Akhilesh Yadav, eyeing a comeback in Uttar Pradesh as chief minister, has stitched alliances with Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), the Mahan Dal, Apna Dal (Krishna Patel) and Janwadi Party (Socialist).
In fact, Akhilesh Yadav has formed just one alliance outside eastern Uttar Pradesh for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). He finalised an alliance with the Mahan Dal in September 2020. It is a little-known party founded by former Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Keshav Dev Maurya in 2008.
The Mahan Dal has influence among Maurya, Kushwaha, Shakya and Saini communities in eastern UP. The party claims to represent these communities that collectively form about six per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population and earlier considered as the vote bank of the BSP. The Congress had tied up with the Mahan Dal in the 2019 Lok Sabha election with little success.
The Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of Om Prakash Rajbhar broke away from the BJP-led alliance to ally with the SP. A party with just four MLAs in Uttar Pradesh, SBSP’s walking away from alliance is seen as a setback to the BJP. The party claims to represent the Suheldev-Rajbhar community.
On his latest visit to eastern Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the community in his speech at the inauguration of Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor in Varanasi on Monday. He said, “If Aurangzeb comes here, a Shivaji also rises. If any Salar Masud moves here, then brave warriors like King Suheldev make him feel the power of our unity.”
Earlier this year, PM Modi unveiled a statue of King Suheldev in eastern Uttar Pradesh and the central government released a postal stamp featuring him and renamed a superfast train as “The Suheldev Express”.
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MINOR BUT A POTENTIAL WORRY
The Apna Dal (Krishna Patel) is a faction of the Apna Dal (Sonelal) that is an ally of the BJP. Apna Dal (Sonelal) is led by Union minister Anupriya Patel while her mother Krishna Patel has sided with the Samajwadi Party for the UP election.
The Janwadi Party (Socialist) is another little-known outfit founded by Dr Sanjay Singh Chauhan, who has sizeable influence in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Padrauna and neighbouring areas. In November, Akhilesh Yadav inaugurated a new office of the Janwadi Party in Lucknow. The party has some influence among the Dalit and Backward Caste voters in Purvanchal.
INDUCTIONS IN SP
The BSP’s Brahmin leader from Gorakhpur Harishankar Tiwari and his son Vinay Shankar Tiwari, an MLA, joined the SP recently along with BJP’s Jai Chaubey, MLA from Khalilabad recently. Another influential leader Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar, both expelled from the BSP, joined the SP in presence of Akhilesh Yadav in Akbarpur.
The desertions from the BSP signal a loss of momentum on its part particularly after a revival-like performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Akhilesh Yadav appears to be taking advantage of this situation with these inductions to counter the SP’s pro-Muslim image and expand its base in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
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IS BJP NERVOUS?
A change in narrative distancing the SP from its pro-Muslim image may impact the BJP adversely in the polls as it diminishes the possibility of a counter-polarisation, which is understood to have widened the gap between the BJP and the rest in 2017 UP election.
The farmers’ agitation and the Covid-induced jobs crisis are said to be working against the BJP this time. Another narrative going around in Uttar Pradesh is that certain caste groups including the Brahmins are “unhappy” with the BJP.
Against this backdrop, frequent visits to eastern Uttar Pradesh undertaken by PM Modi are a clear indication that the BJP is looking to cover maximum ground in the region before the Election Commission announces poll schedule.