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Varun rides the sympathy wave

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Varun Gandhi in Pilibhit.
Varun Gandhi in Pilibhit.

Sandeep Joshi

Communal polarisation may hand him victory in Pilibhit

Communal polarisation in Pilibhit could have an impact in neighbouring constituencies

Controversial Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Varun Gandhi is banking on the polarisation of voters along communal lines to win the election from Pilibhit, which his mother and former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has represented as an MP for over a decade.

Varun Gandhi’s chances got a real boost after the Mayawati-led Uttar Pradesh government booked him under the National Security Act, allowing him to portray himself as a “victim of political conspiracy.” It is this “sympathy wave” for Mr. Gandhi that has given him an edge over other candidates in a seat where the entire Sangh Parivar has literally taken over his election campaign.

The BJP’s chances initially were not that bright because of Pilibhit’s neglect by Ms. Gandhi. In this backward constituency — where people are deprived of basic necessities of life, development has completely been put on the backburner — the entire campaign now revolves around Mr. Gandhi and his alleged hate speeches.

However, opposition parties are equally responsible for the prevailing situation. “It all started with fear psychosis gripping rural Pilibhit following some mysterious attacks in some villages at night. All this happened soon after the elections were announced.

While the district administration failed to take any pro-active measures to instil a sense of security among the people, Mr. Varun Gandhi took over, and started making controversial speeches in some villages. Polarisation on communal lines intensified after the matter became a national issue,” explains Ram Narayan, a retired teacher.

Following Mr. Gandhi’s arrest and the violence in Pilibhit, there were rumours of Muslims celebrating his arrest, leading to further divisions. “I have never seen such polarisation in the region, which could have an impact in neighbouring constituencies, including Aonla, where his mother is in the fray,” says Pritam Singh, another villager living on the outskirts of Pilibhit.

Though Mr. Gandhi seems to be comfortably placed in Pilibhit — which has virtually become a personal fiefdom of his mother — the other parties (the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress) are trying hard to ensure that the contest does not turn out to be a cakewalk for the firebrand BJP leader.

While SP has fielded Riyaz Ahmed, its sitting MLA from Pilibhit, the Congress has given a ticket to B.M. Singh, a Sikh leader who is also related to Mr. Gandhi. While Mr. Ahmed is banking on the substantial Muslim vote in Pilibhit, Mr. Singh is eyeing Sikh voters in the Terai belt of Uttar Pradesh.

Voters confused

On the other hand, the BSP’s last minute change in election strategy has left the voters confused. It initially announced the candidature of the head of Zila Panchayat, Budhsen Verma, who had been working in the constituency for over a year, but three weeks before the polls, it replaced Mr. Verma with former Congress MP Ganga Charan Rajput, a Lodh. Incidentally, Pilibhit has a good presence of Lodh voters too. Mr. Rajput has so far failed to connect with the electorate.

Outsider

“Mr. Rajput is an outsider. Mr. Verma had worked hard and he could have been BSP’s trump card. With two MLAs from this constituency and its growing influence among Muslims, the BSP earlier had a good chance,” says local resident Budh Prakash.

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