The city of Kanpur
The SP bastion, a hot seat to watch out for
The international cricket stadium, with its capacity to seat more than 43,000 people, looms over the otherwise-slow and underdeveloped constituency of Etawah. A half-baked attempt by the Samajwadi Party (SP) to turn its supremo Mulayam Singh’s birthplace, Saifai, into a national sports hub, the structure is located in the middle of nowhere. One has to travel some more distance to reach the homes and farmlands of the constituency, which comprises about 3 lakh Dalits and 4 lakh upper caste voters. The Yadavs account for about 11 percent of the total voting population.
While BJP’s Ashok Kumar Doharey won this reserved seat in 2014, the SP had won three out of four times in the last two decades. The constituency has about 17 lakh electors. Doharey has now joined the Congress, while the BJP and SP have fielded Ram Shankar Katheria and Kamlesh Katheria respectively.
Two women in Etawah’s market, heads clad with their sari’s free end, proclaim that they will vote for the ‘cycle’ [the Samajwadi Party symbol], and claim that their children benefited from the free laptops and cycles that the Akhilesh Yadav government distributed to students. They refuse to talk politics further, saying their husbands “have more knowledge in this matter”.
About a kilometre away in the state-run Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences (or Saifai Medical College), young girls, who are first-time voters, seem less impressed with the SP. Their college, which was inaugurated during the SP rule in 2012, is not equipped to tackle problems such as everyday harassment and lack of safety on campus. The institution does not have a grievance cell.
“Classes are conducted and dismissed on the teachers’ whim. They shut us up saying that we girls must be grateful we are being sent to college in the first place,” says a first-year paramedical college student, not wanting to be identified.
Gilles Verniers, co-director of Ashoka University’s Trivedi Centre for Political Data, points out that the BJP has not fielded a single Yadav candidate. That said, transfer of votes from the SP to the BSP will be difficult. “There is a growing class differentiation among the Yadavs, who tend to vote for the BJP rather than the BSP,” he says. “The transfer of votes will be determined by local factors, essentially.”
The industrial battleground
“I have voted for the Congress for over 60 years, and I am not changing my mind anytime soon,” says 80-year-old Bimla Bharadwaj, a resident of Shyam Nagar in the Kanpur Cantonment Assembly constituency. Her father, a freedom fighter in the independence movement, was a Congress loyalist. “When the BJP asks what the Congress has done in the last 60 years, they forget that they were also in power in between. Forget everything else, what does the Narendra Modi government have to show in the name of significant achievements, apart from debacles like demonetisation?”
Her daughter-in-law, Neelam Bharadwaj, agrees. “They said they’ll get black money back [with demonetisation], but nothing happened. Then after Pulwama, they are just using nationalism to further their divisive tactics,” she says.
The Brahmin-dominated urban constituency of Kanpur—where union minister Murli Manohar Joshi is the sitting MP—will see a face-off between two veterans: BJP’s Satyadev Pachauri, and Congress’ Sriprakash Jaiswal. Both candidates are battling face-to-face after 15 years. While the overarching tone of people in UP’s industrial hub is anti-establishment, they spring up a mixed bag of opinions on which party will govern them best.
For instance, next door to the Bharadwaj household is Suneeta Awasthi, who believes that the country’s “culture can only be salvaged by the BJP”. She claims that her hometown Unnao, which made national news headlines last year because of the rape charge against BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar, is now a safe place for women. “All because of Narendra Modi’s focus on women’s safety,” claims Awasthi, who also frequently participates in discussions or forums in the NaMo app.
Others like homemaker Preeti Singh Chauhan are completely sidelining political parties. “I will vote for a candidate who will work to solve problems in my locality,” she says, who believes that though the BJP made women’s safety an electoral issue, the Yogi Adityanath-led government does not seem to have prioritised gender-based violence. “I feel that Akhilesh Yadav’s UP 100 [where over 3,200 vehicles of the Uttar Pradesh police attended emergency / distress calls from women across the State within 20 minutes] was a more visibly impactful initiative for women’s safety.”