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Politics

Caste influences what voters decide in UP, Bihar

April 12, 2019

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Caste influences what voters decide in UP, Bihar

Saurabh Sharma, Umesh Kumar Ray

Lucknow/Patna: As the first phase of voting for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections concluded across eight constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh and four in Bihar on Thursday, caste was an important factor in both the states.

Voting in eight constituencies of western Uttar Pradesh concluded on a peaceful note. An hour into polling, allegations began to emerge about faulty Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), voting malpractices and attempts being made by political parties to bribe voters with ‘ NaMo’ food packets being found in vehicles.

Voter turnout in Kairana stood at 60%, in Saharanpur 63.76%, in Muzaffarnagar 60.8%, Bijnor 60.6%, Meerut 59.4%, Bagpat 60.4%, Ghaziabad 55.2% and Gautam Buddh Nagar 58%.

Polling in several booths in Gautam Buddh Nagar, Saharanpur and Meerut began much later than scheduled. The district magistrate of Saharanpur informed the media that more than 100 EVMs were quickly replaced because of technical snags.

Violence erupted in Kairana when security personnel stopped about 25 people who were trying to forcibly enter a polling booth to cast their votes without proper identification. Security personnel resorted to aerial firing and lathi-charge to disperse the crowd. A Dalit person alleged he was prevented from voting because of his caste. However, the additional district magistrate, Anand Shukla in his inquiry found this to be untrue. It turned out the man had not been allowed to vote as he failed to furnish valid identification.

The eight constituencies that went to polls on Thursday could pose a challenge to the BJP, by supporting the coalition (SP+BSP+RLD). In Kairana, the BJP had denied a ticket to Mriganka Singh, who had lost the 2018 by-election by a small margin. In Muzaffarnagar, which has a larger Muslim population, the battle was between Jat leaders Sanjiv Baliyan and Chaudhary Ajit Singh. The coalition candidate Ajit Singh seemed to have the support of Jatavs, Muslims and the Jats of a particular khap.

With more than 42% of the population comprising Muslims, Saharanpur is one of the highly polarised constituencies in UP. Here, the battle was between Congress’s Imran Masood, BJP’s sitting MP Raghav Lakhanpal and the coalition candidate Haji Fazlur Rehman.

In 2014, Lakhanpal had defeated Imran Masood by 65,000 votes. The BJP had a 39% vote share, followed by the Congress at 34%, the BSP with 19% and the SP with 4%. Meerut has been the BJP’s stronghold for the past two decades. The BJP has again fielded twice-elected MP, Rajendra Agrawal, who represents the constituency in the Parliament against Congress’ Harendra Agrawal and the coalition’s Haji Yaqoob Quraishi.

Bihar records lowest turnout
First phase of polling concluded in four Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar. Initially, people turned up in large numbers to cast their votes but malfunctioning EVMs and minor incidents of violence hampered the total voters turnout. The four seats that went to polls on Thursday were Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad and Jamui. According to the Election Commission, Bihar recorded the lowest turnout at 50%.

In a few booths, polling was delayed owing to security reasons. This is likely to be a challenging election season for the NDA though they had won all the seats in the 2014 elections. This time, the Mahagathbandhan comprising RJD, Congress, Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) (HAM-S) and Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP) has given tickets based on caste calculations.

Former Bihar chief minister Jitanram Manjhi is contesting from Gaya as a Mahagathbandhan candidate. Since the JDU is aligned with the BJP, they are likely to lose the lower caste voters, which could favour the RJD as it has been campaigning using the social justice platform.

Another key element that could impact the elections is the liquor ban, which had affected the backward community in the region. Most of the backward communities depend on local liquor trade. They were faced with police action following the liquor ban. Jitanram has assured voters in Gaya about withdrawing the ban if he gets elected.

Jamui will also prove to be a challenge for LJP candidate Chirag Paswan, the actor-turned politician and son of Ram Vilas Paswan, who is contesting from this seat for the second time. RJD has fielded RLSP candidate Bhudeb Chaudhury, who had won this seat in 2009 on a JDU ticket. Bhudeb is from the Pasi community and has a good hold on the Musahars, Koiri (Kushwaha), Bind and OBCs, which together comprises about 3 lakh voters. Apart from that, RJD’s MY (Muslims and Yadavas) combined vote is over 4 lakh, which is likely to go in favour of (if not full then a sizeable number) to Bhudeb. Local sources state that the Rajput leader Nagendra Singh is upset with the NDA and will not be supporting Chirag.

There are around 9 lakh voters in Jamui. In 2014, the RJD candidate had secured 1,99,407 votes while Chirag had got 2,85,352 votes. JDU had not fielded any candidate. In 2014, this seat had recorded low voting turnout at only 50.01%. Jamui, which has around 19 lakh voters, had recorded 54% votes this time.

BJP’s Giriraj Singh had previously announced that if he were not given a ticket from Nawada, he would not be contesting the 2019 elections. Giriraj had won this seat in 2014 with a margin of around 1,40,000 votes. According to political experts, Nawada has a large population of Bhumihar voters. Since Giriraj belongs to that community, he was expecting an easy victory. But this seat went to LJP’s Chandan Kumar, the younger brother of Bahubali leader Surajbhan Singh. RJD’s ticket went to Vibha Devi, wife of tainted leader Rajballabh Yadav.

Incidentally, Nawada has never had a local leader in a while. All candidates who have so far won from this seat were parachuted here from other districts. The current candidates Vibha and Chandan too are outsiders. In 2014, the constituency had recorded 52.78% voting. In 2014, the JDU had fought the elections alone and secured 1,68,217 votes in Nawada. If these votes get transferred to LJP, it would be an easy win for Chandan.

Nawada had witnessed communal violence during Ram Navami in 2018. The scale of the violence was such that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had to appeal to people to maintain peace.

Aurangabad is called as the Chittorgarh of Bihar because it has a large Rajput population. They hold a lot of political clout, such that not a single non-Rajput has won from this constituency. Sushil Kumar Singh, who belongs to the Rajput community, has won three times on different party tickets. This time, he is contesting on a BJP ticket. The Mahagathbandhan has given ticket for this seat to HAM’s (Secular) Upendra Kushwaha, who is from the Koiri (Kushwaha) community. Upendra was earlier with the JDU.

According to sources, local Congress leader Nikhil Kumar was demanding a ticket from Aurangabad but was denied. So his supporters are angry with the Congress decision and this is likely to harm the Mahadaghbanghan candidate.

Aurangabad had recorded 49.85% votes, the lowest among the state’s constituencies this time, although it stood at 52.78% in 2014. In 2018, Aurangabad was in the news because of incidents relating to communal violence during Ram Navami. Several minority-owned shops were ransacked by miscreants and shopkeepers had alleged that BJP had a role in these incidents, which the party had denied. Since the shopkeepers continue to be angry with the BJP, this might impact their ally the JDU candidate too.