The election is over, but for the shrine town of Ayodhya, this is unquestionably a fresh beginning. With the long-running saga of the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute finally coming to an end in 2019, the city will vote for the first time without the shadow of the decades-old controversy that has most profoundly shaped and defined India’s contemporary politics and played a critical role in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s meteoric rise.
In the ongoing seven-phase Uttar Pradesh elections, the constituency of Ayodhya, along with 60 other seats spread across 11 districts, will vote on February 27. In 2017, the BJP was victorious in 48 of these seats. The Samajwadi Party, on the other hand, won 42 of them in the 2012 assembly elections. With Yogi Adityanath as chief minister since 2017, ‘Ayodhya’ has grown geographically, with the district formerly known as Faizabad being renamed. Amethi, Raebareli, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Kaushambi, Prayagraj, Barabanki, Bahraich, Shravasti, Gonda, and Chitrakoot are the other districts in Bundelkhand that will vote.
In 2017, the BJP won all five assembly segments of Rudauli, Milkipur (SC), Bikapur, Gosaiganj, and Ayodhya in the erstwhile Faizabad, now Ayodhya. Five years later, as UP votes again, the temple town’s new identity is fast-paced development and the ongoing construction of the Ram Mandir. The BJP will undoubtedly hope that the unprecedented focus on Ayodhya during its five years in power in the state would aid in voter turnout, since the ‘new Ayodhya’ also aligns with Hindutva sentiment.
CAN THE AYODHYA FACTOR AFFECT DISTRICTS NEARBY?
Though the BJP’s decision not to field Yogi Adityananth from Ayodhya has dampened the fervour surrounding Ram Mandir-related Hindutva, the party will still hope that the construction of the Ram temple will provide the glue needed for voters not only in the district but also in the surrounding region to stick with it, particularly in the Devipatan belt, which spans 16 seats in three districts: Gonda, Bahraich, and Shravasti. The BJP won 14 of them in 2017, with one apiece going to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Historically, the region has been distinguished by significant communal polarisation. In some electoral districts. Muslim voters make up a sizable portion of the electorate. The voters from other backward classes (OBCs) are also in the majority, but they are practically evenly split between the Kurmis, Yadavs, and other OBCs. During the peak of Mandir politics in the late 1980s, this was the place where saffron footprints were first established. Since then, the Ayodhya-based Hindutva movement has exerted varied degrees of influence.
In this belt, the Samajwadi Party would hope that ‘Mandal’ outperforms ‘Kamandal.’ A lot is riding on the Muslims’ and OBCs’ support. To gain an edge, the BJP will rely on topics like as law and order, free rationing, and the implementation of the government’s welfare initiatives.
The ruling party will also hope to maintain its grip on Barabanki, a district bordered on one end by the state capital Lucknow and on the other by Ayodhya. In 2017, the BJP won five of the six seats in this district, with the SP winning one. The Samajwadi Party, on the other hand, dominated in 2012. The district, which has a sizable Muslim population, is also a fertile farming region. Everything from latent Hindutva to caste equations and agrarian issues could play a role.
FROM RAJA BHAIYA TO AMETHI’S RAJA
The royalty is also seen dancing to the sounds of democracy in the fifth round. Raghu Raj Pratap Singh, often known as ‘Raja Bhaiya,’ of the princely estate of Kunda in Pratapgarh, is running for a seventh consecutive term on his traditional seat. Since 1993, he has served as an independent legislator in the Kunda constituency. He also has a lot of clout in the communities around him. Vinod Kumar, an independent contestant backed by Raja Bhaiya, won neighbouring Babaganj in 2017.
Raja Bhaiya is currently running on the Jansatta Dal ticket in the intention of gaining a few extra seats in the region.
In contrast to previous elections, the Samajwadi Party has run a candidate against him this time.
Raja Sanjay Singh of Amethi is another notable name from a royal estate running for office. The former Congress MP, who had been a long-time supporter of the party, defected to the BJP in 2019. He is now running for the seat on a saffron party platform. In 2017, his estranged wife Garima Singh ran for the same seat for the BJP. She won, but the ticket was refused this time.
The BJP won all five seats in Amethi district in 2017: Tiloi, Salon, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj, and Amethi. Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh, an MLA from the royal estate of Tiloi, is running on a BJP ticket this time.
DEPUTY CM IN RACE, WHOM WILL APNA DAL FACTOR HELP?
In phase five, voters will be asked to choose between Pratapgarh and Prayagraj, via Kaushambi and Phulpur. In 2017, the BJP won eight of the 12 constituencies in Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad), while its ally Apna Dal won one, the SP one, and the BSP two. In Pratapgarh district, the Apna Dal got two seats. The BJP won all three of Kaushambi’s seats.
Keshav Prasad Maurya, the BJP’s most prominent OBC candidate, is running from Sirathu in Kaushambi this time. Pallavi Patel, a member of the Apna Dal faction led by Krishna Patel, stands in his way. Pallavi Patel is the younger sister of Anupriya Patel, a government minister. The two sisters have taken opposing political paths. The Apna Dal (Sonelal) section, led by Anupriya Patel, has remained loyal to the BJP.
In this region, the Kurmi/Patel and OBC-based Apna Dal has a strong influence. The Samajwadi Party will hope that the faction led by Krishna and Pallavi Patel can outsmart Anupriya’s and help with the region’s much-needed seat conversion.
THE LONE FORTRESS OF CONGRESS
Even in the midst of the saffron tsunami of 2017, the BJP’s Rampur Khas constituency in Pratapgarh remained unconquered. Pramod Tiwari, a veteran Congressman and a mainstay of Uttar Pradesh politics, has kept the party flag flying here since 1980. In 2014, he vacated the seat for daughter Aradhna Mishra in a bypoll after nine consecutive victories. In 2017, she triumphed once more.
Aradhna’s victory streak will be important to the Congress. Nagesh Pratap Singh is her opponent, who, despite being defeated, severely decreased the Congress’s victory margin in 2017. Only 20,000 votes separated him from the winner. The BJP will be hoping he can surprise them this time.