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UP elections, phase 3: BJP takes battle to Samajwadi Party stronghold

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photograph: (AFP)

DNA New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 19, 2017, 02.49 AM (IST)

By Amit Shah & Manan Kumar

Amidst the heady mix of galouti kebabs, biryani and politics, Awadh is savouring the attention of every political partiy in the battle for Uttar Pradesh.

It is in this region, most of which goes to the polls in the third phase of the UP election on Sunday, that the BJP is hoping to weaken the Samajwadi Party (SP), which had swept it in 2012, winning 55 of the 69 seats.

As polling neared, all four parties — SP, BJP, BSP and Congress — campaigned aggressively in the region, which falls in the central part of the state. “All parties were reaching out combatively. They are giving either fuel for motorbikes or Rs 100, or both,” said Vinay Yadav, a taxi driver who has been travelling in the region.

The Modi-versus-Akhilesh debate has dominated the election scenario in Awadh, which could turn out to be a make-or-break region for both parties

The BJP, which is confident of having “done well” in the first two phases in the western parts of UP, is pinning its hopes on a ripple effect in the rest of the state. The other calculation of the party is that it has managed to woo the non-Yadav OBCs like the Kurmis, Kushwahas and Mauryas. The region has a high concentration of backward communities, apart from Brahmins and Rajputs, the upper-caste communities that have been the BJP’s traditional supporters.

Admitting that Awadh had been a major challenge for the BJP because of the caste composition of the region, a party leader said the scenario had changed after the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 when the OBCs and even some Scheduled Castes voted for it. The BJP is counting on two factors — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies and giving tickets to a large number of OBCs. Modi held two rallies in a day, in Barabanki and Hardoi, this week, besides in Kannauj, Dimple Yadav’s Lok Sabha seat.

“The situation has now changed. We have the support of the OBCs,” said state BJP vice-president JPS Rathore.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav faces a bigger challenge in Awadh. He faces the task of retaining the SP’s tally of 2012, when it had wiped out the BJP and BSP in the region under the leadership of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. The SP, whose strongholds go to polls in this phase, had swept it in the last Assembly polls, despite a lower presence of its Yadav support base. BSP had won six seats and BJP five.

The Modi-versus-Akhilesh debate has dominated the election scenario in Awadh, which could turn out to be a make-or-break region for both parties. Modi, who is the BJP’s strongest vote-puller in a battle without a chief ministerial face, underlined the fact that he was an MP from the state and described himself as UP’s ‘adopted son’.

Meanwhile, BSP supremo Mayawati has promised a separate Bundelkhand to dent the SP’s bastion. Part of the Bundelkhand region, a parched region that falls at the bottom of all social indicators, overlaps the Assembly constituencies that are going to polls in the third phase. Addressing rallies on Saturday near Unnao and Etawah, Mayawati also raised the pitch of the campaign by declaring that if her party came to power, it will finish the RSS in UP.

(This report first appeared in DNA)

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