Ever since the Ayodhya movement, Lucknow has turned into a Hindutva bastion which remained unbreakable even when the SP and BSP ruled Uttar Pradesh.
The Lok Sabha elections in Lucknow, one of the most high-profile constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, turns out to be a friendly match or rather a virtual walkover for India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The Opposition, Congress and Samajwadi Party has fielded weak candidates—Acharya Pramod Krishnam and Poonam Sinha—on the last day of the nomination on Thursday, April 18.
Rajnath Singh (67), believed to be a “secular face” of the pro-Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party, seeks re-election from the seat which will go to polls on May 6. This is his first ever attempt to get re-elected from any seat as he has contested from different seats every time in the past.
Challenging Singh on behalf of the country’s main opposition party, the Congress—known as a secular outfit—is 57-year-old Acharya Pramod Krishnam, the chief priest of Kalki Temple at Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh. He had unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from the Sambhal constituency in 2014. Krishnam is known for his work towards communal harmony in the Muslim-concentrated district of Sambhal.
The regional alliance (the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal) managed to import Poonam Sinha from Bihar, who flew down from Patna to Lucknow to join the Samajwadi Party on Tuesday, April 16.
Sixty-nine-year-old Poonam, an actress and former model, is the mother of actress Sonakshi Sinha and wife of actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who ended his three-decade innings with the BJP last month to join the Congress. She was crowned Miss Young India in 1968, did minor roles in Hindi movies, and produced two films.
Poonam’s appointment raised some eyebrows. A professor at the University of Lucknow, on condition of anonymity, said: “Parachuting outsiders at the last moment is clearly a deliberate attempt by the Opposition to give a walkover to the BJP. Had they been serious about winning Lucknow, they could have fielded Shatrughan Sinha jointly, as was the speculation over the last six months.”
No conflict of interest, insist the Sinhas
The temperature in Lucknow touched 42 degrees early this week, unusual in the second week of April, though a shower and breeze on Wednesday cooled it down.
The election campaign in the city of tehzeeb is expected to be civilised compared to other parts of Uttar Pradesh, where communal and sexist remarks have become a routine.
Singh is a “no-nonsense” leader unlike many of his colleagues and does not believe in personally attacking his political adversaries. “We will maintain the decorum during the campaign,” Rajnath Singh had said when asked about Sinha’s candidature. A confident Singh might spend only four or five days in Lucknow for campaign.
Poonam Sinha, though a novice, knows well how to play her maiden game. Soon after she filed her nomination, accompanied by her husband and two sons, she told a news channel: “Though I am contesting for the first time, I have experience of working with my husband in the last two polls in Patna. I’m confident of my victory as my party has done good work here.” Explaining why she ventured into politics, she said, “I started feeling a vacuum in life as my kids have grown up. So, I wanted to serve the people. Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party offered me this (Lucknow candidature) so I took it up.”
When asked if there was a conflict of interest, Shatrughan said, “I’m here as a husband supporting my wife, not as a Congress leader. My party is aware of this.”
Meanwhile, the Congress candidate Krishnam, a good orator, makes his stand clear. “I don’t need Shatrughan Sinha to campaign for me. I seek the support of the people of Lucknow.” On Rajnath Singh’s candidature, he said, “For five years, BJP betrayed the countrymen in the name of the cow, Ayodhya, Indo-Pak issues and tried to snub those who raised questions by labelling them as anti-nationals. While Rajnath remained a mute spectator all these years.”
Krishnam has received some support from Hindu seers. He said, “Seers feel they’re being duped by the BJP as the party brought an ordinance on SC/ST (Act) and triple talaq but forgot its long pending promise of Ram Mandir.”
A BJP bastion for the last 30 years
The electorate of Lucknow has been consistent in giving its mandate to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections irrespective of political trends sweeping around it.
The BJP has won the Lucknow seat continuously since 1991. Atal Bihari Vajpayee represented the constituency from 1991 to 2004, until he retreated from active politics. Lucknow acquired the status as the centre of political power: it was the Prime Minister’s constituency during the Vajpayee era and also the capital of India’s populous state.
In 2009, Lalji Tandon (now the governor of Bihar) won the seat. In the 2014 elections remembered for its Modi wave, Rajnath Singh had defeated Congress’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi by 2.72 lakh votes, much more than the victory margin of Vajpayee and Tandon. Joshi managed about 2.8 lakh votes against Rajnath Singh’s 5.6 lakh votes. Mayawati’s BSP came third while the SP was fourth.
Communal harmony has been Lucknow’s biggest asset. Vajpayee, Tandon and Singh’s images are perfectly in sync with the city’s social psyche. Rajnath Singh comes across as a suave and mature leader who consciously shuns extreme ways and uses restrained language even in political discourse.
According to the grapevine, Rajnath Singh could be a serious contender for the PM post if the BJP doesn’t get the required number to form the government. Senior Congress leader Virendra Madan said, “It may not be a cakewalk for Singh despite the perceived wave in his favour. Don’t underestimate the Congress and Acharyaji’s strength and rising anti-incumbency.”
The contest is all set to acquire the dimensions of caste, community, government employees’ preferences, outsider tags and Singh’s past record in Lucknow. The constituency has over 19.6 lakh voters. According to analysts, this includes nearly four lakh Kayastha voters, one lakh Sindhi voters, four lakh Muslims, four lakh Brahmins and three lakh Thakurs.
Brahmins, Thakurs and Kayasthas have largely supported the BJP so far. But due to the absence of any wave like the previous election year—and the underperformance of the Modi and Yogi governments—this support may not be as overwhelming as it had been in the past, say observers.
Muslim votes are likely to be distributed among the three candidates for different reasons. Muslims in Uttar Pradesh had been Congress supporters since independence, but shifted their loyalties to the SP after the Babri mosque demolition. Lucknow’s dynamics are a little different though. A section of Muslims in Lucknow, mainly Shias, have been supporting the BJP’s Vajpayee, Tandon and Singh because of their secular image. “Now, with Hindutva’s poster boy Yogi Aditynath as the Chief Minister and a rise in cow vigilantism, a section of Shias might go back to the Congress,” say Muslim leaders.
The resurgent Congress, which won the three key Hindi states in December, hopes to woo back Muslims. It may galvanise some support from the Brahmin community, its traditional base in the past. The SP hopes that apart from Muslims and women, Poonam will garner Kayastha and Sindhi votes since she is a Sindhi while her husband is a Kayastha.
Political analyst Ramesh Dixit says, “Both the outsiders will not be able to make much difference in Lucknow, a highly political city and a stronghold of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since the Seventies.”