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March 12, 1998


Poorvanchal remains BJP's Achilles heel

The Bharatiya Janata Party bettered its performance in the Lok Sabha election from Uttar Pradesh on the whole, but faced problems and reverses in the biggest region of the state called 'Poorvanchal'. The region has given not less than five prime ministers to the country.

The region's electoral importance can be seen from the fact that it houses 39 per cent of the state's Lok Sabha seats and 41 per cent of its assembly seats.

Eastern UP, or 'Poorvanchal', which covers 33 parliamentary seats, has always proved to be a stumbling block for the BJP. Increasingly, it seems like it is being drawn into the socio-political vortex of the region, while the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have strengthened their position.

In the just concluded Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 18 seats and its ally the Samata Party won two seats. On the other side, the Samajwadi Party won nine and the BSP, three.

In balance, while the BJP conceded one seat it won in the last election, the Samata Party gained one, thus offsetting the loss.

The Samajwadi Party gained three seats over its previous tally while the BSP's went up by one.

Painfully for the BJP, the Samajwadi Party managed to wrest seven seats from it in the region even while conceding only three to it. The BJP also lost a seat to the BSP, but the latter yielded a seat to the BJP.

The silver lining for the BJP was the capture of Congress citadels like Amethi and Pratapgarh, and the victory in Khalilabad over the Janata Dal, even as the dark clouds gathered over Faizabad, where party nominee and Bajrang Dal president Vinay Katiyar was routed.

The region once again bowed before the political stature of former prime minister Chandra Shekhar in Ballia and former BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi in Allahabad. The region also sent BSP vice-president Mayawati, former Union minister Sanjay Singh, Kalpnath Rai and Arif Mohammed Khan to Parliament.

However, former bandit queen Phoolan Devi's charisma did not work this time. Former chief minister Ram Naresh Yadav and former Union minister Satish Sharma were also rejected by the voters. Unlike Arif Mohammed Khan who, after deserting the Congress, could secure a BSP ticket from Bahraich, the trick just did not work for former president of the Scheduled Castes Commission, Ram Dhan who, doing away with his socialistic tradition, contested on a BJP ticket from Lalganj. A change of constituency also did not change the fortune of former Union minister Chandrajeet Yadav who this time contested from Ghosi instead of Azamgarh.

One striking fact which has emerged from the recent election is that the backwards (mainly Yadav)-Muslim polarisation and Dalit upsurge is not only intact here but appears to have sharpened further. The BSP, apart from retaining its hold over Dalit votes, was also able to attract the backward classes.

In recent years, polarisation was also seen among the forward castes but it is not as rigid as in the case of the backwards-Muslims. It is precisely because of this that the Samajwadi Party could get the support of a section of forward castes, mainly Rajputs, in a few constituencies by merely putting up a caste candidate. On the flip side, it is not that the BJP is the exclusive preserve of forward castes. In recent years the party has been able to win the support of economically better-off backwards as well.

However, it is polarisation of votes along caste lines which dominates politics in the region, and here the BJP is the clear loser. Its inability to penetrate the backward-Muslim and Dalit polarisation has been its Achilles heel.

There is no change in Poorvanchal's behaviour when it comes to assembly elections. If anything, for the BJP, the latter presents even more cause for worry.

In the 1991 assembly election, although the BJP won a majority in the state, it could win only 84 out of the 173 seats in the region. And in 1993, the region virtually ditched the BJP which was hoping to better its prospects after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Then, the BSP-SP combine was able to win more seats than the BJP in the region. The BSP alone won 54 seats, on par with the BJP. The latter's success rate then in Poorvanchal was a mere 31 per cent, against more than 48 per cent in the rest of the state. Again, in the 1996 assembly election, Poorvanchal was a major reason why the BJP failed to win a majority.

In the Lok Sabha election this time the party's success rate outside Poorvanchal was a healthy 75 per cent; in Poorvanchal itself it was only 55 per cent, and was worse than its performance in 1996. In that election, the BJP's success rate in Poorvanchal was only eight per cent less than in the rest of the state.

Political anaylists and even some top BJP leaders believe the unity among the backward castes, and their conflict with the forward castes, which took place post-Mandal, has not entirely disappeared. And, the beneficiary of this social phenomenon is the Samajwadi Party, which has replaced the Janata Dal as a force of social justice.

The SP, apart from winning nine seats in the region, finished second in 15 seats, while the BSP finished second in four seats. And, barring six or seven seats, the total votes secured by the SP and BSP in parliamentary segments was much more than the BJP's. What would happen if the SP and BSP tie up, is anybody's guess.


Box: The crucial 33 seats of Poorvanchal:

Varanasi Pratapgarh Amethi Sultanpur Akbarpur Faizabad Bahraich Balrampur Gonda Basti Dumariaganj Khalilabad Bansgaon Gorakhpur Maharajganj Padrauna Dewaria Salempur Ballia Ghosi Azamgarh Lalganj Machhlishahar Jaunpur Saidpur Ghazipur Chandauli Robertsgunj Mirzapur Phoolpur Allahabad Chayal Fatehpur

Elections '98

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