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|February 18, 1998|
Campaign Trail/Syed Firdaus Ashraf
The mantri versus the ganglord
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is feeling the heat. And the hand on the thermostat belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Determined to defeat nemesis Mulayam Singh, the BJP in Sambhal is supporting, under its own symbol, the candidature of Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party leader and sitting MP D P Yadav.
Thus, D P Yadav's photograph joins those of Kalyan Singh and A B Vajpayee on BJP posters all over the constituency -- and the concentration is heaviest in those areas that are dominated by the Muslims and the Yadavs, both of whom constitute the core of the SP vote bank.
And it is not just posters, either -- halogen balloons, in the shape of the BJP sympol, reach for the skies, attracting attention and creating a buzz.
Judging by the evidence, the BJP threat leaves Mulayam cold -- since filing his nomination paper on February 7, the SP chief has not visited his constituency even once. He is expected to address just one public meeting there, on Thursday, February 19. The constituency goes to the hustings on Sunday, February 22.
Part of the reason for Mulayam Singh's confidence could be that last time round, D P Yadav managed a mere 5,000 vote winning margin from this constituency, despite the fact that on that occasion his opponent was the less well known Janata Dal candidate Shripal Singh Yadav -- not in the same league as the Union defence minister.
However, that is history -- this time round, D P Yadav with his BJP supporters are engaged in a frenetic, door to door campaign that has as its sole aim the humbling of the SP supremo.
Shrewdly turning Mulayam Singh's confidence against him, local BJP leader Hari Om says, "We are pointing out to the locals that Mulayam is taking Sambhal for granted. What kind of candidate is he that he does not have time to hear the grievances of the people before he is elected? When will he visit the constituency -- after the election?"
It is an emotive argument, but one that could cut both ways. Sambhal is one of the most neglected small townships in UP. One third-class hotel services the little town that boasts, by way of development, merely a Tata Fertilisers factory and a Gas Authority of India Ltd plant.
Not that those two factories have helped the locals much -- according to the denizens of Sambhal, not one of them was found qualified to land a job there.
For the locals, employment is mostly in the small brick kilns, or on the surrounding farmlands.
There are no government high schools in the locality. Nor are there any hospitals. Roads? Well, there is one -- a narrow "main road" that runs through the centre of the township, connecting Aligarh and Moradabad.
So neglect is an issue, definitely -- but who will it reflect on most, in the minds of the voters? Mulayam Yadav, who has not bothered to tour the area, or D P Yadav who is the sitting MP and thus shares a measure of responsibility for the neglect? Therein lies the conundrum.
The Mulayam Yadav camp is upbeat -- and their reason is pure mathematics. "Mulayam Singh will win by over one hundred thousand votes," says his campaign manager Yasin Mehmood. "The Muslims and Yadavs are with him, and they constitute nearly 50 per cent of the population."
The BJP, for its part, argues the same mathematics -- from the other side of the fence. The prevailing thinking is that all other castes, the Thakurs, Banias, scheduled castes and such, will vote for D P Yadav. And they constitute the other 50 per cent, so.... Besides, say BJP leaders, the Raksha Mantri has in recent times swung a section of Muslim and Yadav voters onto his side of the fence.
In the 1997 assembly election, four of the segments in the consituency were won by the Samajwadi Party, while the BJP got just one seat. However, the supporters of D P Yadav point to the fact that while their candidate won by a mere 5,000 votes in the 1996 election, the BJP candidate on the occasion had polled 133,295 votes -- which should, this time, help D P Yadav increase his margin of victory.
Says RSS volunteer Vijay Prakash Tyagi, "If D P bags the entire BJP vote, than this along with the 183,742 votes he got last time will help him defeat Mulayam by over 100,000 votes."
Convoluted? Not half as much as the relationship between the two candidates, which has its root in friendship. The rivalry between both candidates has its genesis in self-interest. D P Yadav quit the Bahujan Samaj Party in December and joined the SP, in expectation of a party ticket from Sambhal.
In the event, Mulayam Singh -- whose friend D P Yadav professed to be -- ditched the latter, and added gratuitous insult to that injury by filing his own papers from the constituency.
Miffed, D P Yadav left the SP 15 days after he joined it, and floated his own party.
And this is not the first time the two have fallen out, either. A dreaded history-sheeter with 19 criminal charges filed against him, D P Yadav was a minister in Mulayam Singh's cabinet when the latter headed the state government. At that time, Mulayam sanitised D P's police record, and got him a clean bill of health.
D P parted ways with Mulayam Singh just before the 1996 general election, complaining about the latter's style of functioning -- in realpolitik, that is a useful complaint to make, sort of like 'incompatibility' in divorce cases, since it could mean anything, everything or nothing at all -- and joined Kanshi Ram's BSP to successfully contest the Sambhal seat.
His opponents claim he is a ganglord, with terrifying clout in the western regions of the state, and point to the fact that his brother was killed in a gang war at Ghaziabad, on the Delhi-UP border last month, as further proof of D P Yadav's underworld connections.
And his supporters? "DP Ek Naam Nahin, Aandolan Hai!" -- thus read the posters, which, interestingly outnumber Mulayam Singh's many times over.
"People do not vote for slogans, they vote only for candidates," says Yasin Mehmood. "And Mulayam is definitely a better candidate than D P, as he has the potential to become prime minister of India."
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