In eastern U.P, INDIA bloc going all out for victory

Samajwadi Party supporters during a campaign meeting in support of party candidate Dharmendra Yadav for Lok Sabha polls, in Azamgarh, on May 21, 2024.

Samajwadi Party supporters during a campaign meeting in support of party candidate Dharmendra Yadav for Lok Sabha polls, in Azamgarh, on May 21, 2024.
| Photo Credit: PTI

Soaring temperatures do not trouble Jagananth Tiwari, in fact, it is the only time he does a brisk business. Pouring out extra sweet lassi in earthen tumblers, he is as generous with his political opinion as topping the tumblers with an extra layer of cream.

Mr. Tiwari’s little roadside kiosk is in the Manikpur Gram Sabha, in the Bhadohi Lok Sabha constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is a bipolar contest, he says, between the BJP and “gathbandhan”, the word used to identify INDIA bloc here. So is it the Samajwadi Party or the Congress? Mr. Tiwari responds with an emphatic no. “It is that Bengal party,” he says. For a minute, he is lost for the name of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which is contesting the seat as part of the INDIA bloc. But he is clear on the candidate — Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, a Congress rebel who switched over to the TMC. Does he know the symbol, one asks, “Of course, it is two branches and six petals,” pat comes the reply, as he fishes out the little slip of paper with a picture of EVM showing Mr. Tripathi’s face and TMC’s symbol. Bhadohi goes to polls on May 25.

Mr. Tiwari is not alone, across the seat, Mr. Tripathi is identified as the “gathbandhan” candidate. This seat came into existence after the 2008 delimitation exercise and in the last three elections since, the BJP has held it twice and the BSP once. The SP and the Congress in the last two general elections are fighting for the third place. Both SP and Congress voters are not hesitating from voting for the TMC, a relatively unknown entity here. “The day my candidature was announced, the SP leadership here handed over to me their entire organisational network, going down till the booth level. It was easy to get the Congress workers going, since I have old links with them. Surprisingly, even AAP workers, who may be few, but highly motivated, have been campaigning from the first day for the alliance,” Mr. Tripathi said.

The INDIA bloc since its ambitious beginning in March 2023 as the overarching anti-BJP platform has suffered several setbacks, including exits of few of its founding member parties, such as Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). In Uttar Pradesh too, the alliance had a rocky beginning. The agonised negotiations went on for weeks and a final seat sharing arrangement was announced on February 21, with the Samajwadi Party conceding 17 seats for the Congress.

Common goal

More than 160 km away from Bhadohi in Azamgarh at a corner meeting of SP leader Dharmendra Yadav, the stage is festooned with the Congress and SP flags. A clutch of Congress workers sit on the sidelines at the meeting. The bonhomie that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav display is not entirely replicated by the cadres of the two parties. At best they are tolerating each other for a common goal — defeating the BJP in this election. “It is essential that the INDIA bloc does well. The roots of Congress revival in the State lie in INDIA bloc’s success in Uttar Pradesh,” Congress worker Ramvijay Singh explains. From his perspective, the Lok Sabha elections are the semi-final for the final showdown three years later in the Assembly elections. But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Singh from attending all election meetings held for Mr. Yadav in the constituency.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during public rally for Lok Sabha polls, in Phulpur, on May 19, 2024.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during public rally for Lok Sabha polls, in Phulpur, on May 19, 2024.
| Photo Credit:
PTI

Whether the cadres get along or not is irrelevant for the voter. In the Deoria Lok Sabha seat, Mohammad Khurshid, a 55-year-old driver, does not miss a heartbeat when asked who are the contestants. “There is Akhilesh Pratap Singh from gathbandhan and Shashank Mani Tripathi from BJP,” Mr. Khurshid is quick to say. For him it is irrelevant whether it is SP candidate or Congress, as long as gathbandhan or the INDIA bloc is in fray.

The BJP and especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recurrent attack on “INDI-alliance” as the BJP refers to the group has further contributed to its instant recognition. For example, at his election address in Azamgarh, Mr. Modi said, “Dal do hai, par dukan ek hi hai, jisme yeh jhoot, tushtikaran aur bhrastachaar ka samman bechte hai [They may be two parties, but they have a common shop where they sell lies, appeasement and corruption].”



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