The polls have passed, but for the temple city of Ayodhya, this is surely an election in the midst of a fresh start. With the long-running saga of the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute over following a landmark Supreme Court judgment in 2019, it’s the first time the city will vote without the shadow of the age-old controversy. decades who most profoundly shaped and defined contemporary Indian politics and played the most crucial role in the meteoric rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Ayodhya constituency votes on February 27, along with 60 other seats across 11 districts in the fifth round of Uttar Pradesh’s seven-phase elections. By 2017, the BJP had won 48 of those constituencies. However, in the 2012 assembly polls, 42 of them were ransacked by the Samajwadi party. Since 2017, with Yogi Adityanath as chief minister, ‘Ayodhya’ has also seen a geographical expansion, with the district formerly known as Faizabad receiving that name. Other districts going to the polls are Amethi, Raebareli, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Kaushambi, Prayagraj, Barabanki, Bahraich, Shravasti, Gonda and Chitrakoot in Bundelkhand.
In former Faizabad, now Ayodhya, BJP won all five assembly segments of Rudauli, Milkipur (SC), Bikapur, Gosaiganj and Ayodhya in 2017. Five years later as UP votes again , rapid development and the ongoing construction of the Ram Mandir is the new identity of the temple city. Surely the BJP hopes that the unprecedented attention given to Ayodhya during his five-year rule in the state will also help attract votes, as the “new Ayodhya” also syncs with the Hindutva phrase.
CAN THE AYODHYA FACTOR AFFECT CLOSE NEIGHBORHOODS?
Although the fervor around the Hindutva associated with Ram Mandir has been drastically reduced with the BJP’s decision not to field Ayodhya’s Yogi Adityananth, the party still hopes that the construction of the Ram temple will be the necessary glue for voters. , not just in the district. but the neighboring region also to stick to it, especially in the Devipatan belt comprising 16 seats spread over three districts of Gonda, Bahraich and Shravasti. In 2017, the BJP won 14, with one each going to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The region has been marked by strong community polarization in the past. In some constituencies. Muslim voters have a significant presence. Other Backward Class (OBC) voters also dominate here, but are almost evenly split between Kurmi, Yadav and other OBCs. This was the region where saffron footprints were first entrenched during the height of Mandir politics in the late 1980s. Ayodhya-based Hindutva influence has since exerted a degree influencing variable.
The Samajwadi party hopes that ‘Mandal’ will surpass ‘Kamandal’ in this belt. Much depends on the solidarity of Muslims and CBOs. The BJP will bet on issues of law and order, free rationing and successful implementation of government welfare programs to give it an edge.
The ruling party also hopes to maintain its grip on neighboring Barabanki, the district flanked by the state capital Lucknow on one side and Ayodhya on the other. In 2017, the BJP won five of the six seats here, losing one to the SP. In 2012, however, the Samajwadi party dominated here. The district with strong pockets of Muslim voters is also a rich agricultural belt. From silent Hindutva to caste equations and agrarian issues, anything could be a factor here.
FROM RAJA BHAIYA TO RAJA OF AMETHI
The fifth phase also sees royalty dancing to the beat of democracy. Raghu Raj Pratap Singh or ‘Raja Bhaiya’ of Kunda princely domain in Pratapgarh is once again contesting in his traditional seat, hoping for a seventh consecutive victory. He has represented Kunda constituency since 1993 as an independent legislator. It also holds strong influence over neighboring constituencies. In 2017 neighboring Babaganj was won by Vinod Kumar, an independent candidate backed by Raja Bhaiya.
Raja Bhaiya is now fighting on his Jansatta Dal party ticket and hopes to win some additional seats in the region.
However, unlike in the past, the Samajwadi party this time fielded a candidate against it.
Another big name from a princely domain in an electoral contest is Raja Sanjay Singh of Amethi. A longtime Congress loyalist, the former MP left to join the BJP in 2019. He is now running for the seat on a ticket from the Saffron Party. In 2017, the BJP lined up his ex-wife Garima Singh from the same seat. She won but was denied the ticket this time.
In Amethi district, the BJP won four out of five seats in 2017 – Tiloi, Salon, Jagdishpur and Amethi. MP Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh from the princely domain of Tiloi is back in the running with a BJP ticket.
DEPUTY CM IN RACE, WHO WILL APNA DAL FACTOR HELP?
Pratapgarh region to Prayagraj via Kaushambi and Phulpur is also going to the polls in phase five. Of the 12 constituencies in Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad), the BJP won eight in 2017, its ally Apna Dal one, the SP won one and the BSP won two seats. Apna Dal also won two seats in Pratapgarh district. Kaushambi’s three seats were won by the BJP.
This time Deputy Chief Minister and the biggest face of the BJP’s OBC, Keshav Prasad Maurya, are arguing from Sirathu in Kaushambi. Opposite him is Pallavi Patel of the Apna Dal faction led by Krishna Patel. Pallavi is the younger sister of Labor Minister Anupriya Patel. The two sisters chose different political trajectories. The Apna Dal (Sonelal) faction led by Anupriya Patel continues to be with the BJP.
Apna Dal, based in Kurmi/Patel and OBC, has significant influence in this region. The Samajwadi party hopes that the faction led by Krishna and Pallavi Patel can outsmart that of Anupriya and contribute to much needed seat conversion in the region.
LONE FORTRESS OF CONGRESS
Even amid the saffron tsunami of 2017, the territory that could not be conquered by the BJP was Rampur Khas constituency in Pratapgarh. Congress veteran and UP political stalwart Pramod Tiwari had kept the party flag flying here since 1980. After winning the seat nine consecutive times, he vacated it for his daughter Aradhna Mishra in 2014 for a bypoll. She won again in 2017.
Congress will want Aradhna to continue his winning streak. Opposite her is Nagesh Pratap Singh who, although defeated, had drastically reduced Congress’s margin of victory in 2017. He was only beaten by 20,000 votes. The BJP hopes it can create a surprise this time.
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