Monkey menace in the temple city of Mathura-Vrindavan has taken the centre stage during the ongoing Lok Sabha campaign where sitting BJP Member of Parliament and film star of yesteryears Hema Malini has taken a cautious stance in view of the sentiment against the simians among the voters and a favourable stand for the mammals by followers of Lord Hanuman.
Malini has been guarded in her address while talking about the simians in her nukkad campaigns in the constituency.
While residents of Vrindavan have formed several groups and vowed to cast their votes only to the candidate who promises to address the monkey business in the area, Hema is treading cautiously on the sensitive issue as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had recently advised angry residents to recite Hanuman Chalisa (couplets glorifying Lord Hanuman) to pacify the animals and forge harmony between the humans and simians. In one of her campaign programmes covered by The Pioneer, Hema suggested residents to avoid feeding samosas and soft drinks and offer fruits instead to the simians.
“Unfortunately neither any contestant nor any political party has been talking about the monkey menace in Vrindavan and Mathura. While populated areas are struggling everyday for their safety, farmers are distressed by the damage caused to their crops in their fields.
“While visits by the politicians to agricultural farms after landing from the helicopter may be fine but the real grievances of the residents have to be addressed. We are with the candidate who assures us of a solution to the problem,” said Narayan Bohre, who is leading the Save Vrindavan from Monkeys movement around the Rangji Mandir.
Another unit led by Acharya Mridul Shastri of Radha Kant Mandir rued that leaders commit solving the problem just before an election but nothing is done once the polls are over. “This time around, the residents of Vrindavan are united on this issue and have made it clear to leaders including the sitting MP Hemaji,” said Shastri.
But more than the monkeys, what seems to bother Hema more is the stronger SP-BSP-RLD Grand Alliance candidate Kunwar Narendra Singh. While pulling the horse cart was easier for Hema in 2014 amid the Modi wave, the Muslim-Jat Mahagathbandhan combination has forced the veteran Parliamentarian to take choppers to agricultural farms to aggressively canvass in the run up to polls for the constituency on April 18.
“There are no worries. Me and my people here are more in love with each other and hence Mahamilawat, a reference to the Mahagathbandhan, will have no impact on our pyar (love),” Hema told The Pioneer on the sidelines of a campaign in Vrindavan area.
While the traditional BJP and Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) voters will remain intact as they are committed party voters, the Jat votes are estimated to go in a consolidated way in favour of Mahagathbhadhan candidate, an RLD nominee, and a Jat.
Larger chunk of Muslims are also seemingly inclined in favour of the Mahagathbandhan candidate and the remaining electorate from the community may even vote for Congress candidate Mahesh Pathak, a local businessman, who according to residents is nowhere in the race.
Hailing from South India, Hema has now been staying near the Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan and made the location her second home. Residents and BJP party workers around Hema Malini’s campaign base said she has matured as a politician and developed an effective connect with the electorate.
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Hema had defeated RLD heavyweight and party vice-president Jayant Chaudhary by a massive margin of 3,30,743 votes under the influence of an apparent Modi-wave. Mathura constituency, considered to be the stronghold of Jat voters, is all set to face a direct fight between Hema and Gathbandan candidate Kunwar Narendra Singh.
Political analyst Subransh Rai said if the grand alliance candidate manages to swing the entire Jat, OBC, Muslim and Thakur votes in its favour then it will be difficult for Hema this time. “Congress candidate Mahesh Pathak is eyeing the upper caste and Muslim votes and this could only be a spoiler for the major contestants,” Rai said.
Of the total of 17,99,321 voters, the city has five lakhs Jat voters and around two lakhs Muslim voters. Mathura Lok Sabha has five Assembly segments - Chhata, Mant, Goverdhan, Mathura and Baldev and UP Power Minister Shrikant Sharma is an MLA from the region. The BJP won this seat from 1991 to 2004, the Congress (Manvendra Singh) in 2004 and Jayant Chaudhary of RLD (2009).
Several residents including contestants Pathak and Narendra hit out at Hema for neglecting the constituency and being not approachable to the people. Hema Malini still banks on the ‘charisma’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“This time Braj will reject her come what may. People have realised that being an outsider, she will never perform and we will not allow Mathura to remain free from vote bank politics. I will make it a Brijwasi against the outsider,” said Narendra who has lost all the previous three Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Narendra Singh’s elder brother and three-time former MP Manvendra Singh joined the BJP recently.
While monkey menace tops the list of concerns amongst the electorate, issues like favouring the current regime and its projected achievements like Balakot air strikes and Mission Shakti among others are hot topics for discussion.
“But how can we forget the apparent problems of farmers, unemployment and lack of development in Mathura,” said, Rajesh Khare, a small time grain trader near Attala Chungi. He also complained that Hema Malini never came to their village where he stays.