Take off the Saffron-tinted Glasses

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If opinion polls are anything to go by in this charged General Election, the ‘Modi-fied’ BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has already crossed the rubicon of 272 seats. One of the BJP’s most sterling performances is supposed to be in Uttar Pradesh. While news channel NDTV gave the party 53 seats out of 80, CNN-IBN projected 42-50 seats. But closer to the ground, the biggest paradox facing local political experts is that if the BJP is on such a strong wicket, then why is the party’s top brass unduly worried?

People in the know are indicating that the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip was in prompting BJP general secretary Amit Shah to turn rabble-rouser and pour vitriol ahead of the first phase of the election on 10 April, in which 10 Lok Sabha seats, including riot-hit Muzaffarnagar and Kairana, went to the polls. The whole thing becomes all the more intriguing as the BJP, riding the crest of the Modi wave, is confident of winning at least 50 out of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

One of the biggest sources of worry is the faulty ticket distribution. As many as 23 candidates out of the total 78 — the party has left Pratapgarh and Mirzapur for its alliance partner Apna Dal — are turncoats who defected from other parties, and 11 are former MLAs who lost during the 2012 Assembly election. Social engineering in ticket distribution at the behest of Narendra Modi and former chief minister Kalyan Singh, where OBCs have been given prominence, has also generated lot of heartburn among the upper-caste lobby led by Brahmins.

The BJP has fielded 24 OBC and 15 Brahmin candidates. Much to the chagrin of the BJP, the BSP has given as many as 21 tickets to Brahmin candidates.

The Brahmin lobby is particularly peeved over the nomination of religious leader Swami Shakshi Maharaj (an OBC) from Unnao, which has a sizeable Brahmin population. Local BJP cadres are reportedly unhappy with the choice. To add to their woes, the BSP has fielded Brijesh Pathak, a Brahmin, from this seat. An accused in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case, Maharaj had left the BJP after Kalyan Singh was asked to resign from the chief minister’s office in November 1999. Maharaj was later elected to the Rajya Sabha on a Samajwadi Party (SP) ticket.

A faction in the BJP blames party president Rajnath Singh for favouring fellow caste leaders who joined the party after the election dates were announced. However, BJP sources say that tickets were distributed only after approval from Gujarat, and it was Amit Shah’s recommendation that proved to be crucial in deciding the candidates. Rajnath Singh, though, played a crucial role in persuading the central election committee, parliamentary board and veteran leader Murli Manohar Joshi to accept Modi’s desire to contest from Varanasi.

At least three former state unit presidents — Kesari Nath Tripathi, Om Prakash Singh and Surya Pratap Shahi — are sulking and are up in arms for being denied tickets. Singh wanted a ticket for his son from Mirzapur, which was allotted to the Apna Dal. Tripathi was a claimant for the Allahabad seat, but the party gave it to beedi king Shyama Charan Gupta, who was not even a primary member of the party. Shahi, who had lost the 2012 Assembly polls, wanted to fight from Deoria, but another former state unit chief, Kalraj Mishra, got the ticket.

In the Machli Sahar constituency, which is spread over Jaunpur and Azamgarh districts, BJP candidate Ramcharitra Nishad is facing a tough battle. Nishad’s first wife, Sarita, is running a campaign against the BJP candidate, alleging that he ditched her and married a girl from a different community in Delhi. Nishad’s image of being a turncoat — he was the Congress candidate from Mehdawal seat in the 2007 Assembly election — is also proving to be a negative factor for the BJP.

Former BJP MP from Machli Sahar, Mahant Ram Vilas Vedanti — a Brahmin and religious leader closely associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement — wanted the party ticket from Basti. When he was denied the ticket, he turned a rebel and has levelled serious allegations against the BJP leadership, including Rajnath Singh.

BJP candidates are facing trouble in seats such as Sitapur, Hardoi, Bhadoi, Chandauli, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Ballia, Khalilabad, Gonda, Basti and Domariyaganj.

In Gonda, the BJP has given the ticket to turncoat Kirtivardhan Singh, who is a two-term MP from the SP. His father Anand Singh used to be the agriculture minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government. He was dismissed from the Cabinet in March but remains an SP MLA. His campaign is being run at two levels: the BJP cadres are asking the electorate to vote for Modi, while Kirtivardhan Singh is campaigning for himself.

The BJP has chosen another turncoat as the candidate from Domariyaganj in Siddharthnagar district. The decision to give the ticket to outgoing Congress MP Jagdambika Pal has not been appreciated by the party rank and file. In protest, former Domariyaganj BJP MLA Gippy Tewari has joined the SP. The cadres of both the BJP and the Congress have refused to work for Pal. Interestingly, Vasundhara Jai Pratap, the wife of local BJP MLA Jai Pratap Singh, is the Congress candidate.

Miffed over the denial of ticket from Bhadoi, senior BJP leader Ramrati Bind has quit the party. In Ghazipur, former BJP MP Manoj Sinha had recommended the ticket for Arun Singh and sought the Ballia seat for himself. However, the BJP decided to retain Sinha, who is struggling to keep the cadres in good humour while Arun has raised the banner of revolt.

Veteran BJP leader and former Union MoS (home) Swami Chinmayanand is in trouble as local BJP MLA Seema Dwivedi and the local cadres are not willing to accept him as the candidate from Badaun.

In Deoria, veteran BJP leader Kalraj Mishra is locked in a close contest with the BSP’s Niyaz Ahmed but he is more worried about the challenge from within. Despite losing the 2007 and 2012 Assembly elections from Pattherdeva seat in Deoria district, Surya Pratap Shahi had staked his claim from Deoria but the BJP refused to play ball. Officially, the BJP claims that Shahi has been won over and he is supporting Mishra. But Mishra, a former RSS pracharak, is unwilling to rely on Shahi and has activated his old network of trusted RSS hands.

Even Rajnath Singh is not on a comfortable wicket in Lucknow and is solely banking on the Modi wave. Lalji Tandon, a close associate of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and five-term MP from Lucknow, is the only sitting MP to be denied a ticket. Officially, Tandon has buried the hatchet and is working for Rajnath’s victory. But the party is not willing to lower the guard and has drafted Shiv Kumar, another Vajpayee aide, to keep a watch on Tandon and supervise the campaign.

Rajnath is locked in a direct contest with the Congress’ Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the sitting MLA from Lucknow Cantonment. Her father and former CM Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna was elected as the Lucknow MP in 1980.

Much to the discomfort of the Sangh Parivar’s old guard, Rajnath called on Shia and Sunni Muslim clerics and solicited their support. Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad promised the community’s support for the BJP but added insult to the injury of the Hindutva votaries by saying that “Rajnath Singh is acceptable to us as the PM candidate but we are terrified by the name of Modi.”

Alarmed over the bickering within the BJP, the RSS is now leading from the front in Uttar Pradesh. Ram Lal, the RSS representative in the BJP’s top brass, earlier toured the Lok Sabha constituencies that went to the polls on 10 April to set the party’s house in order. In the coming days, he will visit all the problem constituencies.

Indresh kumar, a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal, the RSS’ top decision-making body, is also touring the state. He is in charge of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the RSS offshoot aimed at wooing Muslims. He recently visited Varanasi and Lucknow, where Modi and Rajnath are the candidates.

“My meetings with Muslim leaders have nothing to do with the polls; it is a continuous process,” says Kumar, who was grilled by the CBI a few years ago in connection with the blasts in Ajmer and the Samjhauta Express. “I held several meetings with the leaders and common people of the minority community in Varanasi. We don’t expect any immediate breakthrough but we have been able to clear many misgivings in the minds of the Muslims about the BJP and Modi.

“I asked the Muslims, ‘What have you got from the affection and support you showed to the political parties for the past six decades? Those parties told you to hate us and kept you under constant fear. It is high time for you to analyse what you got out of hating us.’ It is not the BJP but the self-appointed messiahs of the Muslims who inflicted huge damage on the interests of the Muslims.”

Senior BJP leaders claim that there is indeed a Modi wave but it may not prove to be enough in the state. “If strong winds are blowing and you are riding a cycle, you need to pedal hard if you want to avail the benefit of the wave,” says a senior BJP leader. “The pedal is not working properly in as many as 33 Lok Sabha constituencies of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, which will go to the polls in the fifth and sixth phases.

“However, even our arch rivals admit in private that thanks to Modi’s intense campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, there is a positive sentiment among the voters in favour of the BJP, cutting across caste and creed divisions.”

But he strikes a note of caution. “Even if there is a palpable Modi wave, it is not uniform across the vast state,” he says. “Though our detractors love to call it communal polarisation, there was a clearly discernable wave in the 10 seats of western Uttar Pradesh that went to the polls on 10 April. The BJP candidates are well placed in the 11 seats going to the polls on 17 April. But it will be a Herculean task to maintain the tempo in the subsequent four phases of polling, particularly the fifth and sixth phases, where 33 seats of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh will go to polls on 7 May and 12 May.

“In the last two phases covering eastern UP, the Modi wave will get stuck in the web of caste politics of the SP and the BSP, where caste groups use politics and elections as a tool for their social, political and economic empowerment. Issues such as nation and development seem to be secondary on their minds.”

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