Candidate switch unsettles U.P.’s Jaunpur

Electors now have to weigh in on whether to vote for an unpopular candidate who will likely lose just to keep the status of a State and national party alive for the BSP, or follow other imperatives

Updated - May 16, 2024 03:07 am IST

Published - May 15, 2024 05:35 pm IST - JAUNPUR

The BSP has renominated its sitting MP Shyam Singh Yadav, left, in Jaunpur withdrawing the nomination of Srikala Reddy. Photo: Facebook

The BSP has renominated its sitting MP Shyam Singh Yadav, left, in Jaunpur withdrawing the nomination of Srikala Reddy. Photo: Facebook

“Vote transfer karna mazaak nahin hai (it’s not a joke to attempt vote transfer),” Shivlal Yadav, who has come to sell his vegetable produce at Rakesh Kumar Agrahari’s stock yard in Jaunpur’s Shambhoganj Bazaar, says.

Mr. Yadav’s remarks allude to what he believes is confusion among the voters of Jaunpur, who had thought that Srikala Reddy’s candidature from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had settled matters for them. As the wife of local mafia don-turned-politician Dhananjay Singh, Ms. Reddy was the instant favourite in the constituency, with her husband enjoying a Robin Hood-like image of derring-do and indiscriminate charity cutting across caste lines.

Jaunpur, currently held by the BSP, which won it in an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2019, was one seat where samikaran (equations, of caste) did not mean much.

Since then, the BSP has withdrawn Ms. Reddy’s nomination and renominated its sitting MP, Shyam Singh Yadav, from Jaunpur, a move that has unsettled everyone.

It has also resulted in barbs that the BSP is the BJP’s ‘B’ team, speculation that Ms. Reddy will be joining the BJP herself very soon, and the prospect of BJP candidate Kripa Shankar Singh now becoming a ‘sure shot’ winner.

According to estimates, Yadavs make up the biggest chunk of voters in Jaunpur at 2.50-2.75 lakh, with Scheduled Castes (SC) the next largest group at around 2.25 lakh votes. Muslims voters stand at 2.15 lakh, upper caste Kshatriyas and Brahmins at around 2.25 lakh, while Mauryas and Patels, basically non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBC) number a little over two lakh.

Ms. Reddy, with Mr. Dhananjay Singh’s heft, commanded votes from all; not so the other candidates.

Mr. Shivlal Yadav now has to choose whether to vote for Mr. Shyam Singh Yadav because of individual caste loyalty, or the SP’s Babu Singh Kushwaha because of the strong support base the party enjoys in the Yadav community. “Kushwaha ko ticket deke galey main haddi phasaiye hain (Kushwaha’s candidature is like a bone stuck in my throat),” the vegetable grower says, but indicates that the party, and the loyalty of the larger community, trumps the surname.

He adds that the non-Yadav OBC group of Mauryas are also voting for the SP. On being asked whether he would vote for the BJP candidate, if Mr. Dhananjay Singh or Ms. Reddy join that party, Mr. Yadav responds with a clear ‘no’. “People voting for Dhananjay Singh will not necessarily all transfer their votes to where he goes,” he says emphatically.

This point is further emphasised in Idrispur village, largely occupied by SCs belonging to the Khatik and Vishwakarma communities, and while large parts of these communities have moved to the BJP in its salami slicing of the OBC and SC support bases of the SP and the BSP, in Jaunpur, the elephant symbol is still significant.

Bina Devi and her daughter-in-law Antima Devi acknowledge that they received funds to build a toilet in their home under the present government but add that Ms. Reddy’s withdrawal is “not a good thing”. Choosing sides has become difficult. Ms. Bina Devi’s husband Shambhu Kumar says that the village pradhan or chief will be giving them the signal on where to go, closer to the polls. There is visible irritation over the fact that Ms. Reddy was made to withdraw her candidature. BSP voters now have to weigh in on whether to vote for an unpopular candidate who will likely lose just to keep State and national party status alive for the BSP, or follow other imperatives.

While the men in another village with a large SC population, Shuklaamganj, say that they were yet to make up their minds over where to go, Sunita Devi and her mother-in-law Murti Devi quietly whisper that they will vote for the BJP. “We got some money for toilets and two people from our village have got gas connection,” they said. The labharthiyon ki fauj (army of beneficiaries) spoken of by BJP leaders has a distinctly feminine hue here.

A BJP worker in Jaunpur and nearby Macchlishahar, rues the candidates chosen by the BJP on both seats — Kripa Shankar Singh, an import from Mumbai politics, and Awadesh Singh, a not-so-popular sitting MP. “We will vote for the BJP because of Modi-ji and Yogi-ji. Please do write in your article that the BJP should have axed many candidates here,” he says.

Raju Vishwakarma, at the Hanuman temple near Shuklaamganj only has one line to say, that this is a Lok Sabha election, alluding to a strong TINA (‘there is no alternative’) factor clinging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The withdrawal of a candidate acceptable to all in Jaunpur has pushed caste fault lines into sharp relief in this eastern U.P. seat, where the battle of samikaran is at full play. 

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