Lucknow: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement about the repeal of three contentious farm laws Friday has been widely perceived as the BJP’s attempt to regain lost ground in western Uttar Pradesh. However, the party has already been working hard to make up for any setbacks in western UP with what some political analysts and leaders have described as its “Purvanchal Vikas Model”.
The Prime Minister has already visited eastern UP three times over the last month, most recently to inaugurate the Purvanchal Expressway on 16 November. He had earlier visited Kushinagar and Siddharthnagar to inaugurate an airport and a medical college, respectively. He is expected to visit Varanasi soon to inaugurate the Kashi Corridor project.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also kicked off several government projects during his tour of eastern UP this month, and is expected to visit again soon. Modi and Shah’s frequent visits and the publicity blitz given to “development” projects in the region will give the BJP plenty to showcase when UP goes to polls.
With 164 assembly seats (out of a total of 403 in UP) spread across 28 districts, the Purvanchal region plays a crucial role in state elections. It also happens to be home to the constituencies of Modi (Varanasi) and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (Gorakhpur, in his erstwhile stint as MP).
In the 2017 state polls, the BJP enjoyed a landslide victory in Purvanchal, winning 115 of the 164 seats with the Samajwadi Party (SP) trailing behind with 17, the BSP 15, the Congress two, and others 15. The party is now gunning to repeat, if not better, its performance.
‘The soul of our campaign’ in UP
A senior state BJP functionary who looks after the party’s programme in eastern UP said that poll fights hinge on “narrative and perception”, and that the party is working hard to promote its projects and schemes among the people.
“Purvanchal is the soul of our campaign, and we have to win it by a greater margin than earlier,” the functionary said.
According to the leader, the party is also focusing on non-Yadav OBC BJP supporters in this region.
“Om Prakash Rajbhar [of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, a former BJP ally] has joined the SP alliance but, in his caste, voters have a soft corner for the BJP. We have created a parallel leadership there,” the leader said.
“Similarly, other non-Yadav OBCs like the Maurya, Chauhan (Nunia), Nishad, Bind, Kurmi, Prajapati etc are with us. Our party has given them representation.”
Seven smaller parties in eastern UP have formed an alliance with the BJP already, the leader added. “Now we have huge support there. We are planning to get a landslide victory.”
UP Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh, whose constituency is in the Siddharthnagar district, said the state government had “changed the image of Purvanchal” with its development projects.
“The district I belong to was among the most backward in UP. Health, education, and employment were the main challenges there before 2017. Now, we have a medical college in Siddharthnagar. I recently inaugurated a government hospital in my constituency also. Electricity and road connectivity are better too.”
UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said the party is following a strategic region-by-region approach in the state.
“From a poll perspective, what I understand is that after completing our work related to ‘Mission Purvanchal’, the party will start focusing more on western UP. Purvanchal is very important for us and, from a development perspective, too, it needed more projects than central and west UP,” he added. “The image of eastern UP was not good before this government was formed.”
He added that the constituencies of the PM and CM, Varanasi and Gorakhpur, respectively, have seen a slew of projects, while other districts have also received an impetus, particularly in the health and education sectors.
Projects in eastern UP
PM Modi sounded the Purvanchal poll bugle in July this year from Varanasi, where he inaugurated development projects worth Rs 1,500 crore. Soon after this event, Home Minister Amit Shah arrived in Mirzapur, part of the Vindhyachal region in east UP, where he laid the foundation stone of the Rs 150 crore Vindhyachal Corridor Project.
A functionary in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said the government “has done a lot for eastern UP”.
Last month, PM Modi inaugurated nine new medical colleges, built at a cost of Rs 2,329 crore, six of which are in Purvanchal. Infrastructure projects are also going strong, the functionary said. Prayagraj and Kushinagar airports have started operations, and work is underway for airports in Azamgarh, Ayodhya, Chitrakoot, Jhansi, and Sonbhadra.
Inaugurated this month, the Purvanchal Expressway passes through nine districts of Uttar Pradesh — Lucknow, Barabanki, Amethi, Sultanpur, Ayodhya, Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh, Mau and Ghazipur — and will soon be also linked with the Varanasi–Azamgarh highway.
According to the CMO functionary, the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) is also constructing the Gorakhpur Link Expressway, which will connect Jaitpur village in Gorakhpur district with Purvanchal Expressway at Salarpur village in Azamgarh district.
In Varanasi, metro construction is scheduled to begin soon and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Corridor project has already started. PM Modi will inaugurate the latter on 13 December, this functionary told ThePrint.
Why not western UP first?
Western UP has 71 assembly seats across its 14 districts, out of which the BJP won 51 in 2017 (the tally went up to 52 when the RLD’s lone MLA Sahender Ramala joined the BJP). In the last elections, the SP had won 16 seats, Congress two and the BSP one seat. However, the BJP is not on such firm footing in western UP this time.
Pankaj Kumar, a political science professor at Allahabad University, said that the farmers’ agitation and the RLD-SP alliance are the “obvious challenges” in front of the BJP in western UP.
“They are focusing more on eastern UP and ensuring that they are well prepared there first. Otherwise, if they lose some seats in western UP, it will damage their chances to form a government,” he told ThePrint.
Kumar predicted that “small caste groups” like the Nishad, Nunia, Rajbhar, and Bind were likely to vote in the BJP’s favour. According to him, the BJP has an eye on seats that it lost in SP strongholds like Azamgarh and Jaunpur. “Now, the BJP is trying to woo voters there through ‘Vikas model’,” he said.
Shilp Shikha Singh, a UP-based political analyst, also emphasised the caste factor.
“The reason behind the BJP showcasing ‘Purvanchal ka Vikas’ as a major poll plank is that the region is a hub of non-Yadav OBC groups. These have been the BJP’s target group over the last four or five years in UP. The alliance with the Samajwadi Party of Rajbhar’s SBSP and the Janwadi Party has made the BJP become even more attentive to Purvanchal,” he said. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the “mega election rallies” of the BJP started from the east this time.
Purvanchal Vikas Model as poll plank
UP BJP vice-president Daya Shankar Singh told ThePrint that he was confident of a victory in Purvanchal.
“We are focusing on every part of the state but it’s true that Purvanchal has become a strong bastion for us in the last four or five years. People in Purvanchal want to see Yogi ji as CM. I feel we will get a much better result than 2017 this time in Purvanchal. Our government schemes have reached every home there.”
A source in the UP BJP said the party was clearly projecting the “Purvanchal Vikas Model” as a poll plank.
“If you notice the statements that were made over the events of the last few weeks, you will get the idea,” the source added.
During his address in Kushinagar last month, Modi noted that “industrial development” in UP was no longer limited to one or two cities but was “also reaching the districts of Purvanchal”.
Then, when inaugurating the Purvanchal Expressway, Modi castigated previous governments for bringing “mafiawaad (mafia rule)” to eastern UP. Similarly, Amit Shah declared earlier this month that Purvanchal had become “mafia and machhar mukt (free of the mafia and mosquitoes)” under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath.
The Samajwadi Party, of course, has not taken kindly to such pronouncements.
SP spokesperson Richa Singh alleged that the BJP was furthering a “fake narrative” in Purvanchal.
“They have only cut the ribbons of projects that were passed during the SP government. The Purvanchal Expressway is the latest example of it. They have not done any work, but are taking credit,” she said. According to her, inflation, unemployment, and women’s safety are still the most pressing issues in the region. “Whatever they showcase here in Purvanchal, they are going to lose badly in the coming elections,” she said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)