Varanasi maybe the hottest Lok Sabha seat in the on-going polls in India, but one should look at seats around Varanasi, as well. The seats that border the holy city will also be affected by the so called ‘Modi Wave’. So, in the first of its kind, we focus on Phoolan Devi’s former constituency, Mirzapur.
Mirzapur is famous for its hillocks, water dams, red coloured land, stone-cutting industry, the panja hand-made woolen dhurries and Vindhyachal Devi’s Temple. It is right next door to Varanasi is accessible by road and rail. It borders Madhya Pradesh on one side with roads leading onto Jabalpur. It has been famous for having elected the famous Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi, as its Member of Parliament twice. The current MP is the dreaded Dadua’s brother, Bal Kumar Patel of Samajwadi Party.
We have all read that the BJP think-tank, which thought of bringing Narendra Modi to contest Varanasi as his second safe seat; did that to influence seats in all of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Point to remember is that the BJP in this part of the world is pretty much a dead party and Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party rules the roost.
In all their wisdom, the BJP party decided to give Mirzapur to their alliance partner, Apna Dal, whose national president, Anupriya Patel (current MLA from Rohaniya in Varanasi) is contesting from this seat against Samudra Bind (wife of current Majhua BSP MLA Ramesh Bind) and Laliteshpati Tripathi of the Congress. Interestingly the same think-tank has removed the ticket of their candidate Anurag Singh (son of senior BJP leader Om Prakash Singh). Samajwadi Party has changed their candidate to Surender Patel, currently an MLA from Sewapuri in Varanasi and a minister in the UP state government.
The day the news filtered in Mirzapur that no BJP candidate will be contesting the seat, all their supporters were surprised and felt deep hurt. One of the Congress supporters commented that it seems after looking at Laliteshpati Tripati the ‘lotus has just wilted’ here in Mirzapur. Now Laliteshpati Tripathi is a young man and a first time MLA of one of Mirzapur’s rural Vidhan Sabha seats called Marihan. He is part of the family of Congress stalwarts like Pandit Kamlapati Tripathi and Pandit Lokpati Tripathi. Pandit Kamlapati Tripathi rose to be chief minister of UP, Cabinet Railways Minister and the Working President of the All India Congress Party under Indira Gandhi. Pandit Lokpati Tripathi was a 9-term MLA in Uttar Pradesh and is credited with doing most of the work in the greater Mirzapur region. Lalitesh in his short tenure as MLA has followed the long tradition of his family of being quiet, solid workers for the betterment of their electorate.
In adverse conditions, he has managed to get a steel factory working again by the funds of the Government of India and has got an AIIMS sanctioned in BHU’s South Campus in Barkachha, which falls under Marihan Vidhan Sabha constituency.
It is one of the largest constituencies by the sheer area one has to cover and its many regions are very different to each other. Large parts of Mirzapur cannot be used for agriculture and poverty still remains as the issue in this election. Successive SP and BSP MP’s did not look after the area despite having their local state governments at various times over the last two decades. Areas closer to Varanasi like Chunar are better but still roads; electricity and unemployment are the issues that candidates grapple with. Locals say that since the time of the Congress, no new check dams have been built and water for irrigation remains an issue till Lalitesh fought for the same last year. Many young people lament that under the Congress till 1990 there were 12 large factories running in Mirzapur and now all of them are shut. They are happy with this steel factory being re-started and AIIMS being sanctioned but would like more avenues for employment rather than travel away to different states like Maharashtra and Punjab.
Mirzapur has a large number of Patels, Binds, Muslims and Brahmins followed by Thakurs and tribals such as Kols. It is a constituency where the BSP workers tell you that their silent voter can overcome all challenge but accept that it is a fight for their candidate from the Congress this time around. Also their candidate is called the ‘goongi biwi’ as the real candidate is her husband and she is considered a proxy. Most people wonder how she will carry the voice of Mirzapur as her husband won’t be able to attend parliament on her behalf.
The most pertinent observation comes from BJP’s camp here, where they say we have been left orphaned. How can we help Anupriya Patel, who was fighting against us and whose father abused us all his life, inform many Brahmins who had supported the BJP in the last two elections.
All in all, this constituency makes a very interesting picture as it seems that Team Modi was so worried of losing to Ajai Rai of the Congress in Varanasi that to consolidate a few thousand Apna Dal votes they struck the deal only to lose Mirzapur. It still doesn’t put them in a very comfortable position in Varanasi as despite their show of strength at Modi’s nomination, it’s a neck and neck battle with the heat set to rise further.
The questions in and around Varanasi-Mirzapur are growing louder as there is news that Modi will camp in Varanasi from the May 5. Now we must remember that in this entire election campaign, Modi has not spent a single night outside of Ahmedabad and he may now spend a week in Varanasi. That in itself should send a signal of the worry that Team Modi is facing in Varanasi.
As for Mirzapur, the simple fact that Anupriya Patel did not start campaigning for 10 days after receiving her ticket as part of the BJP-Apna Dal alliance, says it all. The lotus is not so much in bloom in seats around BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi’s, second safe seat of Varanasi.
(Gaurav Kapoor is the Chief Curator of the Banaras Utsav and a keen student of Uttar Pradesh politics)