Uttar pradesh

Where BSP’s candidate selection threatens the SP’s challenge to the BJP

 Dalit Jatav men in Hardoi’s Sandila firmly back BSP.

 Dalit Jatav men in Hardoi’s Sandila firmly back BSP. | Photo Credit: Omar Rashid

Ramu and Jitin, both Arkvanshi men, have a common grouse against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh. The fathers of both men were injured by stray bulls, adding salt to the wounds of financial loss already suffered by them because crops were damaged by these animals, which have become a menace in many rural parts of the State. 

Mr. Ramu’s father was suddenly attacked by a bull when he was crossing a road. He received injuries to his hip, chin and head. To arrange money for the treatment, Mr. Ramu had to sell off a biswa of his land. “How can I vote for these people [the BJP]? Don’t want to look at their phooti (broken eyes),” he said irritably. No free ration or cash doles from the BJP will change Ramu’s mind. Jitin, a local kotedar, narrated a similar story. His father received 17 stitches to his thigh after he was flipped up in the air by an angry bull three months ago. 

The Arkvanshis are a lesser-known caste in U.P., among the many scattered OBC communities looking for better representation and voice. This election, the focus is on them in Sandila constituency in Hardoi in central U.P. The BJP dropped its sitting MLA, a Vaishya who had alleged that he failed to get a first information report (FIR) registered against a private hospital after he lost his son to COVID-19 due to negligence, and fielded an Arkvanshi, Alka Arkvanshi. This was to counter the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) move of nominating Sunil Arkvanshi, the State president of its ally Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), to cash in on the decent population of Arkvanshis and other smaller communities in the constituency. In the last election, the SP lost the seat by 20,000 votes. 

In this pocket of Sandila, around 60 km from Lucknow, the Arkvanshis appear divided between the BJP and SP, mostly on issues and ideology, with little regard for the candidate. Those backing the BJP cite the Ram Mandir construction and dilution of Article 370, as well as welfare schemes to support their choice. Ram Kishor, an Arkvanshi hawker, says he got a new house, a toilet, free ration, free treatment, and pension for his physically-challenged wife, under the BJP. “Even if the BJP fields a donkey, I will vote for it,” he said.

Mr. Kishor feels disdain for the SP due to communal reasons. “When the SP is in power, Yadavs and Muslims go berserk and pick up grapes from my stall without even paying. We are also unable to chant Jai Shri Ram,” Mr. Kishor said.

Despite the BJP still enjoying popularity among the Arkvanshis here, the situation has changed quite a bit since 2017. There are also many dissenting and disappointed voices, which have buoyed the hopes of the SP.

In a village close to the Sandila market, locals have gathered to mourn the death of an Arkvanshi elder. Several Muslims are also in the crowd. Almost all of them strongly vouch for the SP’s “Sunil bhai”, and the Akhilesh government. 

“Why waste our vote on Abdul Mannan [the BSP candidate] when Mayawati is not going to form the government? I don’t care about the SBSP symbol or Arkvanshi candidate. I want Akhilesh Yadav,” said Mohammad Rasul, recalling the ambulance service and pension scheme that were active under the SP government. 

It’s apparent that the Muslims here prefer the SP government. However, they are also faced with an internal dilemma. While in public they were seen openly backing the SP candidate, in private many of them changed tack and said they would vote for the BSP’s Abdul Mannan, a three-time former BSP MLA who stood second last time on an SP ticket. So why were they vocally pitching for Sunil Arkvanshi? To prevent polarisation of votes along communal lines. “If we speak in favour of Mannan, all the Arkvanshis will vote on communal lines and shift to the BJP. By keeping SP in contention, we divide Arkvanshi votes,” Waris, a voter, said. 

The Muslims here feel Mr. Sunil Arkvanshi cannot defeat the BJP, especially on an SBSP symbol. Had the SP fielded Rita Singh, the widow of former MLA Mahavir Singh, the choice would have been easier, Mr. Waris said. “We want an Akhilesh government but also want to ensure that the BJP loses here,” he said, largely reflecting the predicament of the minority community across the State. 

The inclination of the Muslims towards the BSP in Sandila is based on the loyalty of its Jatav Dalit vote base and tactical candidate selection, which is posing a challenge to the arithmetic of the SP alliance in many parts of the State.

Among the Jatavs here, there is strong support for Ms. Mayawati, even though many feel she’s out of contention due to the erosion of her Dalit vote bank and the steady defection of the BSP’s leadership, first to the BJP and now to the SP. “Our vote will not be acknowledged elsewhere. Hathi baith bhi jaye toh usi ko denge (even if the elephant is flattened, we will vote for it),” said Jatav farmer Girish Kumar Gautam. “If we want Behenji to win, we will have to vote for our candidate and win seats,” Mr. Gautam said.

The Jatavs say they don’t see the SP as an option and prefer a BSP government. “Even if we don’t get anything, there is peace for us,” said Raj Kumar, dismissing the BJP’s development claims. The free ration scheme does not cut much ice among them. “Modi gave us ration. What else did he do? Since four years, we have not had a good crop. Stray animals ate up everything,” Mr. Gautam said.

Whatever the result on March 10, this election will be remembered as one in which Mr. Akhilesh Yadav tried to expand his base beyond his traditional support and promoted lesser-known communities and their icons. In November 2021, Mr. Akhilesh addressed a rally in Hardoi to mark the 15th foundation day of Arkvanshi icon Maharaja Salhiya Singh. It was here that he promised the Other Backward Class (OBC) communities that if voted to power, his government would conduct a caste census and provide them “rights, honour and representation” as per their share in the population. 

But in Sandila, the OBCs pitching for the SP as an alternative are doing so mostly due to their disappointment with the BJP, economic stagnation, and issues like stray cattle, job insecurity and inflation. The poorer they were, the more good things they had to say about the BJP, while the upwardly mobile appeared frustrated. “This ration scheme is making us useless. People are no longer concerned about making an income or looking for work in the fields. How long will people survive on this?” Sanjay Kumar, a Chaurasia man who runs a village ration shop, said.

Ram Khilawan Chaurasia, who also runs a shop in the same area, is worried about stray cattle but also fears that privatisation under the BJP is snatching job opportunities. “My son has seven degrees but is stuck in a job of ₹7,000. If people have earnings, can’t they go and buy ration themselves? Wheat is not that expensive,” Mr. Chaurasia said.

A BJP voter in 2017, he also feels the Yogi Adityanath government’s priorities on cow protection are misguided. “How many gaushalas will you build? You are not able to build homes for people, and there are so many unemployed youth!” he said.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2022 11:25:41 am | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-assembly/in-sandila-the-bsps-candidate-selection-threatens-the-sps-challenge-to-the-bjp/article65055706.ece