Patel faces a tough battle with her mother’s Apna Dal faction joining the Congress, and the SP-BSP-RLD alliance fielding her ex-colleague and current BJP MP Ram Charitra Nishad.
Anupriya Patel, the Union minister of state for health and family welfare, is currently facing a tough battle to retain her Mirzapur constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Patel, whose faction of the Apna Dal has allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party since 2014, received a jolt on Sunday when the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, a BJP ally, extended its support to the Congress.
Om Prakash Rajbhar, head of the SBSP, had resigned from the cabinet last month and fielded his own candidates in 39 constituencies. However, CM Yogi Adityanath hasn’t accepted his resignation yet—allegedly to save the BJP embarrassment in the midst of the general elections.
The other faction of the Apna Dal, led by Anupriya’s mother Krishna, supports the Congress, which has fielded Lalitesh Pati Tripathi (41), a former legislator and great-grandson of late Kamala Pati Tripathi. To make matters worse for Patel, the SP-BSP-RLD alliance has fielded Ram Charitra Nishad (55), a former Apna Dal leader and BJP’s sitting MP from the neighbouring constituency of Machhlishahr (SC).
The process leading up to the alliance’s candidate wasn’t without its own share of drama. The SP had revoked Rajendra Bind’s nomination at the last minute, resulting in anger among the Bind community—a community the SP is trying to woo back with little success. Ram Charitra Nishad switched to the SP after being denied a BJP ticket from Machhlishahr. In 2009, he unsuccessfully contested from the seat for the Apna Dal.
Interestingly, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav held a rally here two days ago which was attended by mere 6,000-7,000 people, triggering a storm on social media. The constituency will go to the polls in the last phase of elections on May 19, in which over 18 lakh voters are expected to participate.
Although the BJP is a non-player here, it abruptly replaced its district president Balendu Mani Tripathi with Brij Bhushan Singh a few days ago, allegedly at the behest of Anupriya Patel. This has angered the Brahmins, the party’s core vote bank. A senior BJP leader claims, “Patel has approached Amit Shah seeking to replace Tripathi with Singh, which has led to dissent within the BJP as well. Tripathi resisted Ms Patel’s efforts to damage the BJP in the district.”
These developments have fuelled the campaign of the Congress’s Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, who was considered a “weak candidate” till last week. Tripathi had lost the contest in the 2014 elections and trailed at third with 1.52 lakh votes. Anupriya had got 4.3 lakh votes while BSP’s Samudra Bind had polled 2.2 lakh.
The BJP hasn’t won Mirzapur since 1998, which is why it joined hands with the Apna Dal in the first place, hoping to break the caste equations that favour the SP and BSP. While BJP leaders claim Patel will register another victory, the party is wary of its ramifications. The Congress has not won this seat since 1984.
A senior BJP leader says, “After her induction as Union minister in 2016, Patel has emerged as a tall Kurmi leader in UP. Her second victory will further strengthen her position in the state. This will not be in favour of the BJP. We are already battling with the tantrums of Om Prakash Rajbhar.” The Rajbhar community is in a position to influence the outcome in 10 seats in eastern UP.
To look back at history: the Congress has won Mirzapur five times, the SP four times, the BJP twice, and the BSP twice. Mirzapur shot to fame in national politics in 1996 when former bandit Phoolan Devi won the Lok Sabha seat from the SP, which revoked all cases against her and released her from prison.
Phoolan, who belonged to the Mallah (boating) community under OBC, lost the seat in a mid-term poll in 1998 and won it again in 1999. She was murdered in 2001. Dreaded dacoit Dadua’s brother Bal Kumar Patel (SP) held this seat from 2004 to 2014.
Caste and Modi are prime issues
Development has taken a backseat in the poll scene here, even as Mirzapur is among India’s 250 most backward districts, receiving funds from the Centre. Carving out Sonbhadra district didn’t help much. The rocky region suffers from poverty and scarcity of water. Several villages are cut off from the rest and rely solely on meagre farm and forest produce.
Divyanshu Upadhyay runs an NGO called Hope which empowers rural women by setting up “green gangs” which keep vigil on unsavoury activities in Mirzapur. He says, “Over 108 villages which had been affected by Naxals are in poor shape. Welfare schemes like Ujjwala Yojna, PM Awas Yojna, Swachh toilets and widow pensions haven’t reached most residents. Some hamlets don’t have power. Schools and health centres lack staff. Patel has miserably failed.”
Yet, caste calculations and the popular sentiment of voting for PM Modi appear to be the chief poll planks, not development, says Sharad Mehrotra, a political analyst and professor at a Mirzapur college.
Congress candidate Lalitesh Pati Tripathi alleges that Patel hasn’t even spent her Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme funds worth ₹2.5 crore. However, BJP leaders claim that in the past five years, the railway station has been improved, the national highway linking Mirzapur with Varanasi was completed, a medical college and Kendriya Vidyalaya were sanctioned, and an out-patient department was started in Banaras Hindu University’s south campus.
Patel could not be reached for comment.
Mirzapur has five Assembly constituencies: Chhanbey, Mirzapur, Majhawan, Chunar and Marihan. Kurmis, Maurya, Nishad, Binds and Mallahs are influential here. The Rajbhar are not much in number. All belong to OBCs. Besides, there are four lakh Dalits, 1.9 lakh Brahmins, 1.9 lakh Vaishysa, over 90,000 Thakurs and 1.2 lakh Muslims.
Patel belongs to Kurmi community whose 2.5 lakh voters were instrumental in her victory. They will rally behind her this time again, apart from upper caste voters of BJP. Nishad seeks to woo the rest of the OBCs, Muslims and Dalits.
The Congress will dent vote banks of both the BJP and the alliance. Priyanka Gandhi took a boat ride on the Ganga, covering several seats, and prayed at the Vindhyachal Dham in Mirzapur last month to mobilise the Brahmin, Nishad, Mallah and Kevat in the Congress’s favour.
Tripathi claims, “I don’t pursue caste politics and seek votes from all communities.” He pins his hopes on Priyanka’s rally on May 17 while the NDA believes that Modi’s rally on May 16 will seal the deal for Patel.
Professor and political analyst Mehrotra says, “So far, Patel seems to have an edge due to her clean image, education and popularity among the middle class. The Dalit and Yadav vote may not shift en bloc in favour of Nishad. Tripathi can benefit if he attracts votes of Brahmins plus a section of minorities, Rajbhar’s party and splinter votes of the Apna Dal.”
Shailendra Agrahari, a political analyst, says, “In a polarised electoral scenario with party lines and their support bases clearly drawn, the floating votes of all communities will decide the outcome. BJP and Apna Dal have put their best foot forward as of now. Big leaders are campaigning for her. Lack of connect with locals, especially in rural areas and with local BJP leaders, will go against Patel. However, her work, glamour and Modi’s popularity might help her swing votes.”
Meanwhile, when asked about Rajbhar’s position, BJP spokesperson Naveen Srivastava claims, “He had resigned but is still using his official vehicle and other facilities. None of the allies from 2014 has left us. The alliance with SBSP was inked in the 2017 Assembly elections and we believe Rajbhar is still with us. Patel will win the seat as neither Rajbhar nor Krishna Patel have any influence in Mirzapur.”
On Nishad’s defection to the SP, Srivastava says, “Nishad was denied a ticket as he faces a court case pertaining to his caste. He claimed to be a Dalit. Nishads are considered as SC in Delhi but as OBC in Uttar Pradesh. His defection will not affect the Mirzapur contest.”