BSP turncoats to slug it out in Mayawati’s bastion of yore | India News – Times of India

BSP turncoats to slug it out in Mayawati’s bastion of yore | India News – Times of India


In Shahzadpur market of Akbarpur, the birthplace of Ram Manohar Lohia, stands a statue of the socialist ideologue, left unattended. It was two decades ago, in 2004, when the Samajwadi Party last won the Lok Sabha election from Ambedkarnagar.
The constituency has been a BSP bastion since 1996, which the party president Mayawati represented thrice in 1998, 1999 and 2004.The BSP fort was breached only twice – by SP’s Shankhlal Majhi in 2004 by-elections and BJP’s Hari Om Pandey in 2014. In 2019, BSP’s Ritesh Pandey wrested the seat by securing over 52% votes, recording victory against BJP’s Mukut Bihari Verma by a margin of over 1 lakh votes.
He is the son of veteran BSP leader Rakesh Pandey, now an SP MLA from Jalalpur. Rakesh had won the parliamentary seat on a BSP ticket in 2009.
However, in March this year, Ritesh joined the saffron fold and is contesting the seat as a BJP candidate. He is facing another BSP turncoat, Lalji Verma, who had joined the ‘samajwadi’ camp in 2021 and was elected SP MLA from Katehari in the 2022 assembly polls. BSP has fielded Qamar Hayat Ansari.

Strong Footing No More?

For Manoj Kumar Gaur, a sweet shop owner in Jalalpur area, Mayawati was the one who brought development to Ambedkarnagar.
“Whatever you see here today is the result of the efforts of ‘Behenji’ (Mayawati). Any politician coming to seek votes here cannot give Jalalpur a miss. This is the road that takes you to Ambedkarnagar,” Gaur says. Another resident, Lal Bihari Yadav, says: “Only God knows who will win from here. I think it will be a close contest between Ritesh Pandey and Lalji Verma.” On BSP’s campaign, another resident observes, “Forget about someone campaigning for BSP, it is difficult to spot even party flags here.”
Shankar Dayal Sharma, a voter from Akbarpur, says: “Mayawati made Ambedkarnagar a separate district in 1995. Mahamaya medical college, two engineering colleges, a diwani court, collectorate, agriculture research centre, three power plants, eight ITI colleges, Eklavya stadium, women’s degree college, Ambedkar villages, housing for poor under Kanshiram Awas Yojana, overbridge and roads are some of the major works done by BSP. She should have herself contested the election to ensure the party’s victory.” “The candidates that ‘Behenji’ fields in elections now have no recall value. The candidate that she has fielded in Ambedkarnagar is a local leader, who won local civic body’s chairman elections and is hardly known beyond Jalalpur,” he adds.
BSP’s Qamar Hayat Ansari, has been the chairman of Jalalpur Nagar Palika thrice. The post has also been held twice each by his wife and father.

Voters’ Profile

Ambedkarnagar has around 18.7 lakh voters, of which SCs (Dalits) constitute over 26% (around 5 lakh), and Jatavs, BSP’s core voters, form the biggest chunk of around 3.8 lakh. There are around 5 lakh OBCs which include Nishads, Rajbhars, Kurmis, and Pals. Muslims constitute over 16% of voters, which is around 3.5 lakh.
“In Muslim-dominated Tanda and Jalalpur, Rakesh Pandey has influence which may benefit his son Ritesh,” says Shivram Mishra, a local resident. Mohd Sultan Siddiqui from Tanda, which has over one lakh Muslim voters, says: “Muslims have no ‘rehnuma’ (leader). We will vote for the party that talks about our welfare.”
The constituency also has over 1.7 lakh Kurmis who may support Lalji Verma. Ambedkarnagar has over 1.6 lakh Brahmins who traditionally vote for BJP. Yadavs, at around 1.3 lakh, and Thakurs at around 86,000, are also significant. “Rajputs could be among floating voters this time,” says Narendra Verma, an SP functionary.

SP Banking On Verma’s Popularity

In the land of Lohia, Samajwadi Party is banking on the popularity of Lalji Verma, a prominent Kurmi leader, who has a long standing in politics. He has represented Tanda assembly constituency for four terms and Katehari twice.
In 2007, when BSP formed a majority govt in UP, Verma was the state head of the party. He served as a cabinet minister in Mayawati govt in 2007 and held significant portfolios. In 2017, he was BSP’s legislature party leader in the UP assembly. His daughter, Chhaya Verma, was fielded by BSP in Jalalpur byelections in 2019, after the seat was vacated by BSP’s Ritesh Pandey, who won Ambedkarnagar Lok Sabha seat. However, she lost to Ritesh’s father, Rakesh Pandey, who contested as an SP candidate.
SP had won Ambedkarnagar two decades ago, and since then, it has been making gains on BSP’s losses. Over a period, Lalji Verma, Ram Achal Rajbhar, Tribhuvan Dutt, Ram Murti Verma and Rakesh Pandey quit BSP to join SP. In the 2022 assembly elections, four out of five SP MLAs in Ambedkarnagar’s assembly segments were once with the BSP. However, what may give SP a tough time in 2024 is the fact that SBSP’s OP Rajbhar, Pallavi Patel of Apna Dal (K), Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan, who were with it in 2022, have moved on which could leave an impact on OBC and MBC votes.

BJP Banks On Development

Beyond Ram temple and Modi magic, BJP is reaching out to voters with the projects that have been sanctioned in the district in the last 10 years. Land has been acquired for two industrial corridors in Katka, Jalalpur and Bivana. “Our welfare schemes have benefited everyone, irrespective of caste lines. Since there are a lot of farmers here, schemes catering to them have a huge impact,” says a BJP leader.

Issues That Matter

Jobs, education and farmers’ uplift are the key areas which need the govt’s attention. “Ambedkarnagar has two cement plants and a unit of NTPC which generate jobs but the young population needs more job avenues,” says Rehan (20). “Quality of education in schools should also be improved,” adds his sister, Ruby, who aspires to be a doctor. Ambedkarnagar has a large rural population and has fertile land for agriculture. Cane growers abound in the region. “Many people are involved in the weaving industry which needs to be promoted,” says Shobhit Pal, who works in Urdu Bazaar locality.


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