Contest in most seats is keenly watched also due to SP-BSP acrimony, activism of a Priyanka-led Congress
Under sustained heat over law and order incidents – the latest being the Hathras rape case of a Dalit girl – Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath faces a test of anti-incumbency in the bypolls for seven seats on Tuesday.
Amid a new phase of acrimony between the SP and BSP chief Mayawati spurred by the Rajya Sabha elections, and the activism of a Priyanka Vadra-led Congress seen in the past few months, the bypolls would also be a fight among the three to claim the position of the main Opposition against the BJP as the State heads towards the 2022 Assembly polls.
In 2017, the BJP had won six of these seven seats. This time, in a multi-polar contest, the BJP faces a string of questions making the contest in most seats keenly watched. Unlike the top leadership of the SP, the BSP and the Congress, Mr. Adityanath personally campaigned, first virtually and then in public meetings. The other parties left the campaign to their second string of leaders.
In his rallies, Mr. Adityanath flaunted the dilution of the Article 370 and the construction of the Ram Mandir as fulfilment of promises made by the BJP. In recent rallies, he even raised contentions issues like bringing a law against “love jihad” and promised to take stern action against cow slaughter.
On the back foot after the shooting of policemen in Kanpur and killing of wanted criminal Vikas Dubey and his aides, the BJP government tried to placate the influential Brahmin community by taking a number of punitive measures against other controversial figures in the State politics. Jailed MLA Mukhtar Ansari and former MP Atiq Ahmed have faced most of the brunt, as the administration demolished and seized their properties. “Our sympathy can never be for a criminal, goonda or mafia. You can see how the government’s bulldozer is running over their chests,” Mr. Adityanath said at a rally in Jaunpur in reference to the demolition.
“When this is happening, the farmers, youth and women are pleased by it but the SP is in pain that such action is being taken against mafias,” Mr. Adityanath said.
The Brahmin factor is at full display in the Deoria seat, where the Congress, the BJP, the SP and the BSP have all fielded Brahmins. However, son of the deceased BJP MLA Janmejai Singh, Ajay Pratap Singh, has altered the equations especially for the ruling party with his rebellion by filing nomination as an independent. Mr. Ajay Pratap said he was fighting to save the honour of his late father and people (OBC Sainthwar caste).
“Will only Brahmins contest,” he asked while talking to reporters, hinting at the caste fractions in the State. Incidentally, Mr. Ajay Pratap has received support from several smaller parties, including the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party.
In Bangermau (Unnao), the BJP battles the baggage of the Kuldeep Singh Sengar rape controversy. It has won the seat only once, in 2017 when Sengar won on its ticket, while the SP has won it thrice and the BSP twice. The bypoll was necessitated after Sengar was convicted in a rape case.
Ghatampur, a reserved seat in Kanpur, was also among the seats the BJP won for the first time in 2017. The seat fell vacant after the death due to COVID-19 of Cabinet Minister Kamla Rani Varun. In Malhani (Jaunpur), the SP has fielded Lucky Yadav, son of senior leader and former Minister Paras Nath Yadav who died recently of illness. The contest turned interesting after former MP and alleged muscleman Dhananjay Singh filed nomination as an independent. In Naugawa Sadat (Amroha) and Bulandshahr, the BJP is relying on sympathy factor having fielded the wives of the deceased legislators – Chetan Chauhan (who was a Cabinet Minister) and Virendra Sirohi. Sangeeta Chauhan is the BJP candidate in Naugawa Sadat while Usha Sirohi is contesting in Bulandshahr.
In Bulandshahr, the BSP has fielded Haji Yunus, brother of former MLA Haji Aleem. The seat would also test the potency of the SP-RLD alliance with the RLD fielding its lone candidate Praveen Kumar Singh here. In Tundla (Firozabad) the SP, the BSP and the BJP are locked in a triangular contest.
BSP chief Mayawati asked voters on Sunday to ensure the success of her candidates “to give a right message to the opponents”.
SP president Akhilesh Yadav tweeted, “The youth are now saying out loud that the ‘jumlebaaz’ will be shown the door. In the coming days, the youth will emerge as the Yuvraj.”
Mr. Yadav in a statement released through spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary asked people to take the bypolls seriously. “The results will determine which path the politics of U.P. will move on. The choice for voters is between development and destruction,” said Mr. Chaudhary.