Lucknow, March 10: In the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh, by-polls have never attracted so many eyeballs as the ones slated for Sunday when voters in Phulpur (Allahabad) and Gorakhpur cast their votes to send their representatives to the Lok Sabha.
There are two reasons for the curiosity and anxiety the polls have caused. One the one hand, while it's a test of the almost one year of Maharaj-ji's (Yogi) rule and on another a dry run for the coming together of the bua-babua (Mayawati-Akhilesh), not long ago sworn enemies.
First because the by polls are a big test for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BSP) as these two seats were held by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy in the state government Keshav Prasad Maurya and the elections would also be a first major test of the popularity of the BJP or the lack of it in the run up to the 2019 general elections when Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a second term.
Secondly, this is also the first electoral outing for hitherto arch rivals the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) when they are on one platform with an objective to "defeat a common foe". The coming together of the bua-babua (Mayawati-Akhilesh) is no less that a miracle as both parties have been cursing each other since the SP party men led a murderous attack on the BSP supremo some 23 years back. Mayawati never forgot the attempt on her life and refused overtures by the then SP chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, with whom she briefly ran an alliance government in the 1990s.
Akhilesh played a doting son as far as the relationship with the BSP was concerned and in several measures like building a flyover just across Mayawati's residence, ending her privacy in the walled Mall Avenue bungalow to shunting out her favorite officials in the previous government. Mayawati's men in the bureaucracy reciprocated during their tenures when not only were SP cadres targeted but Shivpal Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav were manhandled by the police on more than two occasions. However, with their political existence at risk, the two have buried their differences and stitched a "temporary electoral understanding" for the by polls.
Mayawati has not put up any candidate in Phulpur and Gorakhpur and has asked her cadres to "be proactive, hold as many rallies and ensure the victories of SP candidates". The narrative explained to the committed Dalit vote bank is that the Modi juggernaut is unstoppable and needs the SP-BSP to cement ties and give up differences. But while Akhilesh has also reciprocated the favour by thanking the Dalit leader for her gesture, the two parties have yet not shared the dais at any election rallies. The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Ajit Singh has also extended its unconditional support to the SP-BSP combine.
For them to win or even pose a decent showing in the by-elections would open prospects of a possible 'maha-gathbandhan' in the 2019 elections but a loss could undo whatever rapprochement the two have achieved in this election. The BJP will then be able to tom tom the defeat of the opposition as a failed attempt to stop the BJP 'vijay rath' despite them coming together. UP Civil Aviation Minister Nand Gopal Nandi is already taking potshots at the tie-up. A former BSP minister, he says that Mayawati will have to explain to her cadres what forced her to close ranks with the SP, a party during whose tenures the Dalits were the biggest sufferers.
"This is completely an unholy alliance, bereft of any ideology and it will come a cropper" he told IANS. Ashok Kumar Gautam, the zonal coordinator of the BSP for the region, however, differs and says the the "wild run of the BJP will be demolished in the Phulpur polls". "Inke share samikaran dhwast ho jayenge is baar. Hum janata ko bata rahein hain ki inhone unke saath kya kya dhokhe kiye hain" (All their equations will fall flat this time, we are telling the people on how the BJP has cheated them with false promises) he added.
The opposition unity has been jilted with the Congress deciding to go alone and even going public with its disenchantment with the way the SP-BSP joined hands without even considering it as a "value addition". UPCC chief Raj Babbar launched a broadside against SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, accusing him of playing the spoiler in opposition unity. The SP has also hit back by saying that Congress is impractical and does not realise the ground realities.
The BJP, which faces the litmus test of not only retaining the two seats, is also closely watching the finishing line to see how the voting contours might change with the coming together of SP-BSP-RLD. "Though the verdict is certainly going to be in our favour, we are pertaining crossing our fingers on the number of votes the opposition polls...that would be crucial for us", a strategist in the BJP camp told IANS.
In the past, Phulpur has seen interesting fights and many heavyweights of Indian politics -- JawaharLal Nehru, Vijay Laxmi Pandit, Ram Manohar Lohia, V.P. Singh and Janeshwar Mishra have contested from this seat, which has about 50 per cent backward and Patel votes. While the final outcome will only be public on March 14 when the votes are counted, the fact that jailed mafia don-turned politician Atiq Ahmad is also contesting the polls in Phulpur is an interesting twist in favour of the BJP.
With Ahmad likely to divide the 15 per cent Muslim voters in Phulpur, the little dicey seat for the BJP, it is likely that the BJP candidate might cruise ahead of the opposition candidate here. In Gorakhpur, its is for the first time in decades that
anybody from outside the Gorakshnath temple is contesting the polls. First it was two terms of Mahant Avaidyanath and then since 1998 it is Yogi Adityanath who has won the seat.
While political observers feel that the BJP has no problems in "Maharaj-ji's fiefdom" the number of votes polled in favour of BJP's Upendra Shukla would certainly be of much interest and political currency. So, till March 14, all eyes are set on these two seats as the political establishment, both in Delhi and Lucknow await the verdict.