Can 'Modi wave' and a cricketer's zeal restore Phulpur's Nehru glory? (Election Special)
From being represented by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to a waterloo for BSP founder Kanshi Ram to its present-day stagnation, Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh's Allahabad district has seen it all in the last 64 years as it now prepares for a contest where caste equations could trump charisma and a cricketer's electoral debut.
Incumbent MP, Kapil Muni Karvariya of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), is trying his luck again while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded its Sirathu legislator Keshav Prasad Maurya from here and the Congress, former India cricketer Mohammad Kaif.
Maurya told IANS that he is confident of "riding the (Narendra) Modi wave" and "bringing to Phulpur the glory which even Pt Nehru failed to bestow on it". He is also pinning hope on the game changing votes of the Patel community which seem to be by their side with BJP's alliance with Apna Dal - seen as a community outfit.
Samajwadi Party's Dharmaraj Patel, who has once been MP in 1999, says the policies and welfare schemes rolled out by the Akhilesh Yadav state government, would send him to the Lok Sabha, while Kaif is keeping a low profile, saying that he is a "disciplined soldier" of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and would like to work for the people's welfare if elected.
There were vocal demands by local Congress leaders earlier to filed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from the seat. While Kaif says his candidature was sealed after a chance meeting with Rahul Gandhi, local leaders say the Congress has hinged its hope of winning back the seat after 30 years, also with an eye on the Kaif's Muslim Ansari community - a sizeable population in the area.
"It is a daunting task but I am sure people, specially the youth are seeing through the faulty and false hopes being sold by other parties," Kaif told IANS. Refusing to be called the Congress' Muslim face, he says he is an Indian who would like everyone to smile.
This non-descript town, locals say, is like "just any other ailing place in UP". "Nobody remembers what the Nehru era was like," says Babu Lal Manjhi, a tea seller off the pot-holed road that takes you to the place.
A village elderly is quick to point out how the brief ascendancy of late Vishwanath Pratap Singh as prime minister of India had brought some development in the otherwise "sookha (parched)" area. Singh was an MP from Phulpur in 1971, much before he became prime minister in 1989. But he, many say, did not forget the constituency and rolled out some development measures.
But largely across the years, Phulpur has been an bastion for parties opposing the Congress. Barring 1952, 1957 and 1962 when the people elected Nehru and in 1967, his sister Vijay Laxmi Pandit, the voters here have preferred the opposition camp.
This is largely, people say, owing to the problems being faced by farmers and their belief that the Congress is indifferent to them. The other major issue that spurs voting is the caste matrix.
With Patels (Kurmis) in sizeable numbers in the area, parties opposed to the Congress have successfully touched the "raw caste nerve" in elections after 1971 when V.P.Singh won. No wonder then that in the last 10 Lok Sabha elections, nine times Phulpur has swung the opposition way. The only exception was 1984 when Congress won in the sympathy wave generated post Indira Gandhi's assassination.
While Ram Poojan Patel, who won in 1984 on a Congress ticket, defected to V.P.Singh's Janata Dal and won 1989 and 1991, the voters shifted their loyalities to another Patel - Jang Bahadur Patel, who contested successfully on Samajwadi Party ticket twice - in 1996 and 1998 - and in the first time having the distinction of humbling the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Kanshi Ram.
The social cocktail of Muslim, Yadavs and Kurmis ensured two more victories for the Samajwadi Party - in 1999 and 2004 when Dharmraj Patel and Ateeq Ahmed won at the hustings. These victories, Anupam Kumar, a PhD, however rues did not change the fate of the constituency.
Ateeq, an alleged mafia don who has a slew of cases ranging from murder, robbery and extortion against him, left the constituency's image tarred. "He largely won on muscle power and elders would often shamefully point out how the seat represented by the first pradhan mantri has now a gangster at the helm," Ram Swaroop, running a sweet shop in Phaphamau, a sub-town area and an assembly segment, rued to IANS.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on 04-04-2014)
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