BJP banks on Hindutva, caste fractions and Modi

People are not happy with the sitting Unnao MP but they are impressed by the Prime Minister

For the past two years, Dileep Singh and Sajeevan Lodhi’s farms have fallen prey to several raids by stray cattle. They even had to incur additional costs on building fences to cut the damage.

Despite the grievances, both Lodh (OBC) farmers are voting for the BJP again in 2019. The reason? Hindutva, caste fractions and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

They feel the government is not entirely at fault for the stray cattle menace, blaming people for letting loose their animals. “Earlier, they were sold and slaughtered,” says Mr. Singh, while Mr. Lodhi says despite the crop damage, a cow getting slaughtered is a “bigger problem” in his Hindu faith. “Cow is considered a mother,” he says.

Mr. Singh gives ‘zero’ grade to the sitting MP from Unnao, Sachchidanand Hari ‘Sakshi Maharaj’, for his work, and points to the broken brick roads and open drains in his village. The MP, a self-styled seer, is known for his controversial statements and last week, even threatened to “curse” those who did not vote for him.

“My vote is not for Sakshi Maharaj. But for [Narendra] Modi. This is a national election,” Mr. Singh says. Interestingly, Sakshi is himself a Lodh.

In Mahnora village, a few km away, Rajjan Lal, also a Lodh, lambasted Sakshi for being an absentee MP, but praised Mr. Modi for providing new toilets and homes to the poor. But underlying his choice are also the communal and caste fractions in U.P., where the non-Yadav OBC are heavily being wooed by the BJP.

“Under the Akhilesh government, only the Yadavs and Muslims are favoured. Now there is nothing like that … everyone is equal,” Mr. Lal says.

In 2014, the BJP won Unnao after a gap of 16 years. Playing the Lodh card, the party defeated the SP’s Anna Shukla by over 3 lakh votes, while the Congress’s 2009 winner Annu Tandon was relegated to the fourth place. 2019 is a re-match.

Despite facing heavy anti-incumbency and being dubbed an outsider, Sakshi is still holding fort mainly due to the Modi factor, the large Lodh population here and support among OBC castes such as Nishads, Kashyaps and Kahar and a major chunk of Brahmins and Thakurs.

OBC women in particular were pleased with the ₹2,000 of the PM-KISAN scheme, free cooking gas and toilets. “Why won’t I vote for the person who provides me amenities,” asks Chandravati, a resident.

Ms. Tandon, however, hopes that local issues such as stray cattle and drinking water problem due to high fluoride content and industrial pollution, clubbed with years of her personal social work and charity, especially for women, would help her repeat the 2009 score. That year, she received over 52% of the votes but in 2014, she slumped to 16%.

“I personally feel it wasn’t Sakshi; it was the Modi wave [that I lost to]. In this election, the Modi wave is down and everyone is realising, ‘Oh god, what did we do’. So they want to go come back to me,” Ms. Tandon says.

Seated in her ancestral haveli in Unnao, she was finalising logistics for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s roadshow. Since she does not have a caste card in her hand — Khatris matter little here — she is fighting on her personal goodwill and influence.

“This [Unnao] is my home. It is not a question of who, what, which caste, because I am not a caste-oriented person,” she says when asked about the caste equation of the BJP.

Across the constituency, Ms. Tandon is praised for her social work, cutting across castes. Yadav families near Orhar village lauded her for funding marriages of poor people, while many recalled how she donated milch animals to farmers, a trend she started after meeting the family of a farmer who had committed suicide in Hardoi in 2006. Two years ago, however, she stopped donating the buffaloes. She said she did not want to jeopardise the lives of the poor villagers due to the threat of self-styled gau rakshaks after the Yogi Adityanath government came to power.

Ms. Tandon has also promised voters to find a solution to the drinking water problem.

The SP has again fielded a Brahmin, Anna Shukla, known more for his criminal antecedents.

The party could face the ire of the Pal (OBC) community as it had earlier fielded former BSP MLA Pooja Pal, but only to replace her without reason. Sakshi is the only OBC representative of the BJP in Unnao and also the only one in the fray, putting him at an advantage.

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