New Delhi: Om Prakash Rajbhar, president of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), used to drive an autorickshaw in Varanasi before entering politics. Now, as a key ally of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the ongoing Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, he can well be in the driver’s seat again — as a power player in state politics.
Rajbhar, the sitting MLA from Zahoorabad in Ghazipur district, faces a tough challenge on his home turf, posed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The BJP has fielded Kalicharan Rajbhar, the former BSP leader who defected in December and belongs to the same community, against O.P. Rajbhar, its former ally. Kalicharan is no stranger to Zahoorabad — he won the seat twice, in 2002 and 2007, on a BSP ticket.
The BSP, meanwhile, has fielded Shadab Fatima, who won from the constituency in 2012 on an SP ticket. She is likely to get the majority of Dalit votes in the constituency, and draw much of the Muslim votes too — votes on which the SP and its allies, O.P. Rajbhar in this case, rely.
This, and a division of the Rajbhar votes between Kalicharan and O.P. Rajbhar means that the BJP, with its own core voters intact, can benefit from the expected split voting along community and caste lines.
Not only in Zahoorabad, the BJP is also using its ‘Rajbhar vs Rajbhar’ formula to target O.P. Rajbhar’s son Arvind Rajbhar, who is the SBSP candidate from Shivpur in Varanasi district. There, the BJP candidate is UP cabinet minister Anil Rajbhar.
After the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is contesting from 33 seats, the SBSP is the party with the highest seat-share in the SP-led alliance — 16.
BJP’s plans from Zahoorabad
O.P. Rajbhar’s SBSP, in alliance with the BJP, contested eight seats in the 2017 assembly polls and won four. Rajbhar became a cabinet minister, but his ties with the BJP soured when he demanded a Lok Sabha ticket in the 2019 parliamentary polls. After their break-up in 2019, Rajbhar joined the SP and became an open critic of the BJP and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
In Zahoorabad, where many voters are from the Rajbhar community, the O.P. Rahbhar-Kalicharan Rajbhar fight is gaining eyeballs.
Kalicharan, who won from Zahoorabad in 2002 and 2007 on a BSP ticket, lost the contest in 2012 to the SP’s Shadab Fatima and in 2017 to O.P. Rajbhar.
The BJP’s poll mathematics in Zahoorabad, like elsewhere, hinges on the caste/community divisions in the electorate.
In Zahoorabad, Dalit voters number around 70,000, Rajbhars number around 70,000, there are 30,000 Muslim voters and 45,000 Yadav voters, according to party estimates. Then, there are 30,000 Chouhan voters and 30,000 Rajput voters, with Brahmin and Vaishya voters, respectively, comprising 25,000 and 20,000 of the electorate.
The BJP hopes that due to Kalicharan’s old BSP connection, he will get some Dalit votes, plus a fair share of his Rajbhar community votes. The Chouhan, Brahmin, Rajput and Vaishya votes comprise the core BJP votebank.
Lastly, the BJP is banking on a division of Muslim votes due to the presence of Shadab Fatima. All this, it hopes, will make it very difficult for O.P. Rajbhar to win.
“There is a huge anti-incumbency against O.P. Rajbhar as he hasn’t done any development work in the area, he only makes tall claims. We will not only get Rajbhar votes, but Dalit votes too, because of Kalicharan’s BSP past. Now, the contest is between the BJP and BSP’s Fatima,” BJP district president Bhanu Pratap Singh told ThePrint.
The BJP has not won the Zahoorabad assembly seat, except in 1996, when its candidate Ganesh won. Since then, the contest here has largely been between the BSP and the SP.
‘People still recall my work’
BSP candidate Shadab Fatima initially hoped to get a SP ticket, but quit the party last week and joined the BSP when the seat was allotted to the SBSP.
Fatima, a relative of the Hindi/Urdu poet, novelist and scriptwriter Rahi Masoom Raza (who also wrote the script of TV serial Mahabharat), was close to SP leader Shivpal Yadav. After the Akhilesh Yadav-Shivpal Yadav split in 2017, she was denied a ticket from the party. She had earlier served in the Akhilesh Yadav government as minister.
She won in the 2007 UP assembly polls from the Ghazipur Sadar seat on an SP ticket.
In the 2012 assembly election from Zahoorabad, Fatima defeated Kalicharan Rajbhar, while Om Prakash Rajbhar came third. Fatima polled 67,012 votes, while Kalicharan got 56,534 votes. Rajbhar got 48,865 votes.
This year, Fatima is hoping to get the BSP’s traditional Dalit votes, besides a fair chunk of Muslim votes. She’s counting on anti-incumbency against O.P. Rajbhar too.
Fatima told ThePrint, “I have done much development work in my constituency… people still recall my work in the past. There is no fight here for me.”
O.P. Rajbhar’s tactic in Zahoorabad
But Arun Rajbhar, the younger son of Om Prakash Rajbhar, counters these claims of the BJP and the BSP.
“In Ghazipur, for Muslims, the leader is Mukhtar Ansari and, for Yadavs, the leader is Akhilesh Yadav. Ghazipur Muslims will not vote for Fatima, Rajbhar votes will not split and we will get Chouhan votes as (Janwadi Party president and SP ally) Sanjay Chouhan is in our alliance. The BJP will not succeed here,” he told ThePrint.
Arun Rajbhar was referring to the politically influential Ansari family of Ghazipur, to which jailed gangster-turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, BSP leader and five-time MLA from Mau, belongs.
O.P. Rajbhar has fielded Ansari’s son Abbas Ansari from Mau, a move that appears to be calculated to bring him Muslim votes in Zahoorabad.
A BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named said “for Ghazipur Muslims, Mukhtar Ansari is a hero”. “But, this time, the situation is a bit tricky, as the BSP has denied a ticket to Ansari (from Mau), but fielded a Muslim candidate in Zahoorabad who has a good image. Now, O.P. Rajbhar’s SBSP has given ticket to Mukhtar Ansari’s son from Mau…it is only aimed to gain Muslim votes,” the leader added.
The task facing Arvind Rajbhar in Shivpur
While O.P. Rajbhar is fighting his own battle in Zahoorabad, his son Arvind faces the BJP’s Anil Rajbhar in Shivpur.
Anil Rajbhar won the 2017 assembly election from Shivpur, and was made a cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath government. After the BJP’s fallout with O.P. Rajbhar, the BJP has promoted him as its Rajbhar face.
The Shivpur seat has an estimated 60,000 Rajbhar votes, 50,000 Yadav votes, 30,000 Muslim votes, while Brahmin voters number 35,000, Chouhans number 30,000, Mauryas number 25,000, besides Prajapati and other castes.
The SBSP hopes to get Muslim, Yadav and Rajbhar votes, while the BJP is banking on Rajbhar, Chouhan and Brahmin votes.
The BSP candidate from Shivpur is Ravi Maurya. In 2012, the BSP’s Uday Lal Maurya won from this seat.
Both Zahoorabad and Shivpur vote in the last phase of the UP elections on 7 March.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)