Har Har Gange
After the successful execution of Mission Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to take a holy dip in the Ganga for salvation in the 2017 assembly polls. Out of power in Uttar Pradesh for more than a decade, the saffron party has suddenly discovered the river deemed holy by Hindus, apart from riding on sugarcane and development issues, as one of its possible vehicles to win back the lost ground in UP state polls.
Even though there is ample time for the saffron party to ‘create’ a Modi-wave-like situation to dethrone the Akhilesh Yadav from UP, the contours have already been drawn by the BJP. The message behind decision to retain Varanasi seat and quit Vadodara Lok Sabha seat by prime minister Narendra Modi is very loud and clear – Modi wants the ‘lotus to bloom’ in Uttar Pradesh. Much like during the Lok Sabha polls, the process of blooming must start off from the riot-scarred western regions of the state.
To woo the voters of western UP, the party has awarded VK Singh, who bears a clean image, with a ministerial berth. There are plans to reach out to the educated population of the area by projecting the former Army chief as one of the significant faces of the party in the region.
Other warhorses of Modi who will play crucial role in getting the arithmetic right for the assembly polls are Muzaffarnagar MP Sanjeev Baliyan and Jhansi MP Uma Bharti, who had spearheaded the ‘save Ganga’ campaign.
Baliyan will be the backward face of party and Uma Bharti’s ‘save Ganga’ campaign will bear fruits in the western part of the state. The party is hopeful that Ganga campaign will help in breaking the caste lines in the area.
It’s well known that the sugarcane-producing districts of western Uttar Pradesh hold the key to electoral success or failure as more than 32-lakh cane growers exercise a decisive influence over the poll outcome. Such is the dominance of cane and such is the sway of cane politics — an offshoot of the tussle between growers and private mill owners over the payment of arrears and the state advisory price (SAP) — that political parties cannot ignore them.
With eye on electoral gains, the minister of state for agriculture Sanjeev Baliyan has termed the cane issue as his topmost priority on the day he took charge of his ministry. Baliyan, an accused in Muzaffarnagar riots case, has said that the Modi government would formulate a major policy on sugarcane and would direct sugar mills to pay the arrears to the farmers.
Bhupendra Singh, BJP president of western UP, said, ‘The issue of sugarcane is a major concern in the region and the party is keeping an eye on it.’
The political significance of western Uttar Pradesh cannot be overstated. In 2012 assembly polls, BJP won just 12 seats out of 71 assembly constituencies in this part of the state. But the unprecedented Lok Sabha results have encouraged BJP a lot as the party has won all the 14 Lok Sabha seats under the ambit of western UP. During the last assembly elections, the party’s vote share had increased to some extent in the 58 assembly seats. In order to contain the raised vote share in the area, party has inducted maximum number of ministers in the Modi cabinet. There are eight parliamentarians from the state in the Modi cabinet and out those eight, two MPs are from west UP – VK Singh from Ghaziabad and Sanjeev Baliyan from Muzaffarnagar.
In the 2007 assembly elections, the Bahujan Samaj Party won about 65 seats from western UP, which enabled Mayawati to form a government on her own. The Jatav-Muslim-Vaishya combination worked to her advantage. In fact, elections here have revolved around the Jat-Jatav-Muslim-Gujjar-Vaishya caste equations. ?The population of western Uttar Pradesh is composed of a varied set of communities and tribes, including Ahirs, Brahmins, Dalits, Gujjars, Jats, Jatavs, Rajputs, Rohilla Pashtuns, Ravidas and Tyagis. Jats make up around 17 per cent of the population of western Uttar Pradesh.
Ram, is close to the heart of people in a large part of the state. It is also an issue that affects farmers — from Garhmukteshwar in western UP to Ballia in the far-eastern corner. Besides, by invoking the Ganga and publicly ‘seeking its blessing’, the party also hopes to win over castes like Mallah, Kevat, Nishad, Bind and Kashyap, which have never been BJP voters. Although the Ganga, which covers a distance of 1,100 km in UP, has so far never been a major poll issue in the state, this time, the BJP wants to turn it into their biggest riding vehicle to success.
Covering 26 districts of the state right from Bijnor (bordering Uttarakhand) to Ballia (bordering Bihar), Ganga’s 1,100-km stretch in Uttar Pradesh means much. And as it meanders through the Hindi heartland, it touches as many as 76 assembly constituencies of the state. The list of the districts include: Ballia, Ghazipur, Chanduali, Mirzapur, Varanasi, Bhadohi (Sant Ravidas Nagar), Allahabad, Kaushambi, Pratapgarh, Fatehpur, Rae Bareli, Unnao, Kanpur, Hardoi, Kannauj, Shahjahanpur, Farrukhabad, Budaun, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Bijnor, JP Nagar, Aligarh, and Etah. As many as six assembly constituencies of Ghazipur, Allahabad and Varanasi lie on the banks of Ganga. This is followed by Kanpur, in which Ganga passes through five of its assembly segments. While four assembly seats of Unnao, Mirzapur, Fatehpur, Budaun and Farrukhabad also lie on the banks of the national river.
Ganga also plays an important role in bringing farmers from every part of the state under a single umbrella. The river remains the primary source of irrigation for them. Anything related to Ganga cannot escape their attention and will indirectly help political parties to bind with them together as about 28 per cent of the state’s farmers have their farmlands adjacent to the