In Prayagraj, the BJP relies heavily on the successful Kumbh even as the SP-BSP gathbandhan poses a challenge; the Congress must perform better than the past in a seat that once was its stronghold
Morning walkers debate Lok Sabha polls with aplomb. Pic/Dharmendra Jore
Allahabad: Regular morning walkers at the sangam city's Chandrashekhar Azad Park, SC Dwivedi, his lawyer colleague Ramkrishna Shukla, and Sudhakar Singh, a healthcare professional, were debating the local Lok Sabha contest when mid-day interrupted their post-walk teatime. A post-graduate student, Sanjay Jaiswal, joined to give a younger perspective.
Money well spent?
"Ganga aur Jamuna nikaal dijiye yahanse to kya bachega? (What will remain if the Ganges and Yamuna aren't here?)" said Dr Singh. He makes this point to establish the importance of the holy rivers for keeping the city's socio-economic existence alive on the global map. And that leads the conversation to the recently concluded Kumbh Mela, which every participant says was meticulously planned and executed. They say the grand success should augur well for the BJP in terms of electoral gains.
"We have never seen such planning and execution at the Kumbh Mela in the time of other governments. The city and the surrounding areas have been developed beyond our imagination. It seems the money was well spent," said Dwivedi. Shukla confronts Dwivedi calling him a BJP supporter. "I agree it was conducted very well. But what about the after effects of the Kumbh? The toilet tanks were dumped in the river adding to the pollution. Some people involved in the Kumbh have minted money through dalaali (commission)," he said.
The Kumbh appears to be one of the reasons for Uttar Pradesh tourism minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi replacing the sitting MP, Shyam Charan Shukla, as BJP's official candidate. Joshi had contested this seat in the past as a Congress candidate, but failed. The Congress hasn't won Allahabad since Amitabh Bachchan's 1984 victory. It has lost to an independent, Janata Dal, BJP and Samajwadi Party. This time, the Samajwadi-Bahujan Samaj Party gathbandhan has dented the confidence of the ruling party.
A young Jaiswal takes pride in identifying the constituencies associated with names such as Lal Bahadur Shastri, VP Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Janeshwar Mishra, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna and Amitabh Bachchan. "The Nehrus stayed here," he says. He rued the falling standard of education in the Allahabad University. "Students are interested in maar-kaat (violence). There are murders on the campus. Allahabad may be seeing changes in infrastructure, but the drop in educational quality is a concern that we expect our MPs to address," he said.
Joshi, former mayor of the city, Yogesh Shukla (Congress) and former MP Rajendra Patel (SP-BSP alliance) make the fight multi-corner. AAP's transgender spiritual leader Bhawani Nath Valmiki has added a pinch of spice in the contest. The issues here are different for the cities and villages. They say issues like demonetisation, GST, jobs and corruption aren't as appealing, but nationalism surely does attract voters.
In Meja, 80km from Prayagraj, Jaman Shrivastava is supervising a knee-high peppermint crop. "Peppermint is a much more profitable cash crop. One bigha gives you about R25,000 against wheat's R7,000-8000. People in my village are happy with the present situation. Access roads are better, we have toilets, and most importantly water is available all the time," he says.
Caste will play a role
The caste factor will work in both rural and urban areas, say the people. Both Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Yogesh Shukla are Brahmins who have a big vote bank. Interestingly, both Joshi and Shukla, who switched over to Congress because the former got a BJP ticket, had lost the Lok Sabha elections here in the past. The split in Brahmin votes will decide their fate.
The SP-BSP gathbandhan's Rajendra Patel represents the Kurmis who make up a significant rural population. The josh is high in the gathbandhan, and the BJP seems concerned about a threat that the buwa-bhatija combination poses.