In the 10 lok Sabha seats of Western Uttar Pradesh’s Rohilkhand region, the BJP currently holds only two seats — Aonla and Pilibhit — and with Narendra Modi wave on its ascendancy, the party is keen to expand its hold in the area. And the key to its ambitions lies in Bareilly, the seat which shares its borders with the two constituencies.
Bareilly has been a BJP stronghold for Santosh Gangwar having represented the seat for consecutive six times, till he lost to Congress’ Praveen Singh Aron in 2009. The party understands the seat’s importance not only in terms of consolidating itself in Rohilkhand but also in Uttar Pradesh, where it is aiming to reach its best tally ever.
The fight in Bareilly, which goes to polls on April 17, is clearly between Gangwar and Aron while the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are finding themselves on shaky grounds.
What makes the contest interesting is that despite having represented the seat for such a long time, the BJP’s nominee Santosh Gangwar does not seem to enjoy local support as the people here are unanimous about his ‘absence’ once the polls are over.
“He is no doubt accessible, if there is a problem he even comes riding pillion on a two-wheeler, but his visibility is only during election time, otherwise he is nowhere to be seen,” said Anil Kumar, a local resident.
Sandeep, a resident of a village situated adjacent to Bareilly, added that while Gangwar represented the seat for such a long time, not much has improved in the last 25 years if we see in terms of basic amenities.
locals even blame Gangwar for doing little at a time when some major industrial units were facing closure, including a rubber factory owned by a big Mumbai-based entity.
VP Singh, an Associate Professor in the historical Bareilly College (the most significant educational hub of the city, with a capacity of 25,000 students) said that even the sitting Congress MP Praveen Singh Aron has not been able to make any headway in terms of improving basic amenities like power and roads.
His colleague Alok Khare, Associate Professor in the college’s Botany Department, though gave an interesting insight on the entire political scenario. “Despite discontentment against Gangwar, his chances seem bright owing mainly due to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi wave. People may vote for Modi, the immediate candidate may not matter to them,” he noted.
In addition to this, the caste equations too seem to be helping the BJP candidate. In 2009, Gangwar’s winning streak was halted by Aron, as the SP candidate Bhagwat Saran Gangwar ate into Gangwar votes resulting in the BJP losing the seat to the Congress by a margin of just 10,000 votes.
Political observers too feel that the BJP this time has an edge as out of the seven Assembly constituencies which form Bareilly lok Sabha seat, the BJP has three in its pocket. SP and BSP have two each. Aonla and Pilibhit the two lok Sabha seats which are in the immediate neighbourhood of Bareilly have been BJP strongholds, currently being represented by the mother-son duo of Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi respectively.
While Aron has support of the upper caste votes comprising of Agarwal and Aron communities, the BJP can count on the sizeable Gangwar community (who are essentially Kurmis) which consists of around 3 lakh votes out of the total 16 lakh votes of the lok Sabha seat. A political anaylist, Surajpal Singh, said though Gangwar vote will not split, and the business class is backing the BJP, Muslims who form 34 per cent of the electorate, will play a key role here.
He said that Muslims in the area are determined that their vote does not get divided. Shahid Shamsee, a businessman as well as an active member of the Muslim community, especially in the old city area, noted that corruption is not an issue at least in Bareilly.
“The Congress is not as bad as being projected. But the larger issue, especially after the Muzaffarnagar riots, is that Muslims should vote responsibly. That (the riots) was not controlled properly and the need now is to consolidate our votes,” he added.
While the SP traditionally has been a non-entity on this seat, the BSP which had finished second here in 2004, is being termed as a dark horse, as its Brahmin candidate Umesh Gautam (a local businessman who also a runs private university), may eat into upper caste votes of the BJP, Surajpal Singh said.