It is largely believed that the opinion of the electorates of Purvanchal (Eastern UP) which is famous as Bhojpuri Belt, is vital for any party to win the majority mark in the UP Assembly. History has proved that it is the caste factor which has always played a vital role rather than issue like development, in building the opinion of the voters in this region. Nine districts of the region going to polls in the second phase of state assembly elections on February 11th is the center of political activities nowadays.

Purvanchal is known to be the tough zone of state politics. Though the region has produced many stalwarts of the state and national politics but the caste factor is the stark reality of the local politics in the region. Even big shots of state politics who are contesting from here have to face this reality. Whether it is state Assembly Speaker Sukhdev Rajbhar, state BSP chief Swami Prasad Maurya, state BJP chief Surya Pratap Shahi, even mafia-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari and many others, all are pinning their hope on their caste support to win their respective seats.

In 2007 Assembly polls, there were 61 Assembly seats in the region but after the delimitation, the number of seats shrank to 59. Paniara Assembly constituency which was once represented by former Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh, Mau and Ghosi constituencies which were once represented by Congress stalwart late Kalpnath Rai fall in this region. The kind of development under taken by the two former political heavyweights for their constituencies used to cause envy among their opponents. But nowadays, nobody is concerned of the development of the region. During campaigning all the parties and their candidates are trying to woo voters on caste plank and none seems to be interested in talking about the issue of development.

BSP heavyweights like Swami Prasad Maurya and Sukhdev Rajbhar, whose party proposed to divide the state in the name of development just ahead of state elections, are also focusing on their caste base to win polls rather than discussing about the workers done by their BSP government. Rajbhar and Maurya, the two noted backward leaders of the region, are contesting from Didarganj and Padrauna constituencies respectively. To disturb the poll prospects of the ruling BSP, the opposition parties are also playing Backward Caste card. Babu Singh Kushwaha (a backward leader), whose entry in the BJP after his expulsion from the BSP owing to his alleged involvement in NRHM scam sparked widespread row, is campaigning against the BSP leaders to dissuade Backward voters from voting for the ruling party. By fielding another Backward leader Bijendra Pal from Padrauna against state BSP chief SP Maurya, Samajwadi Party has thrown a major challenge to the BSP.

State BJP chief Surya Pratap Shahi- a Bhumihar- is contesting from Pathardeva constituency but Peace Party, which is being seen as a dark horse, has fielded another Bhumihar candidate against the senior BJP leader. Obviously, the whole poll campaigning is shadowed by caste politics. Ramashish Rai- another Bhumihar leader- who recently defected from the BJP is already eying on the votes of this caste. There are a total of 15 constituencies which are going to polls in second phase where Bhumihars are in a decisive position. Given the predominant position of Bhumihars, all prominent parties like the BJP, the SP, the BSP and the Congress have fielded Bhumihar candidates from Mohammadabad seat.

Even other castes are also in a decisive position in this region. Rajbhars are dominant in Mau, Ghosi, Jahurabad and Rasada. Given this fact, Bhartiya Samaj Party chief Om Prakash Rajbhar is contesting from Jahurabad by string alliance with Quami Ekta Dal of Mukhtar Ansari. Interestingly, the BSP has also fielded Bhim Rajbhar against Mukhtar Ansari to dent support base. Chauhans are also influential in some constituencies. BJP has projected Sanjay Chauhan as the face of the party to draw support from this caste. The Peace Party is all set to make inroads in Muslim vote bank of Samajwadi Party. To counter the game plan, the SP has fielded its three time MLA Abdul Kalam against PP chief Dr Ayub. Other prominent political leaders like former state BJP chief Ramapati Ram Tripathi from Siswan, chief whip of SP in state Assembly Ambika Chaudhary from Phephana and SP general secretary Om Prakash Singh from Zamania are banking on their caste calculations to enter into state Assembly.

Besides caste, another factor is criminal background of the candidates which has been vital in shining the political career of many mafia dons. But this time, mafia-turned-politician Harishankar Tiwari who is contesting from his traditional seat Chillupar constituency as an independent candidate, is also not sure of his victory due to adverse caste equations. In the wake of his gloomy prospects, he has made an emotional call to the voters in the last moment saying it is going to be his last election.  Former tainted minister and another mafia don Amarmani’s son Aman Tripathi is contesting from Nautanwa in Maharajganj district, Durga Yadav from Azamgarh are also banking on caste support to enter into state Assembly.

Definitely, caste factor is going to play a decisive role in 2nd Phase polls in Purvanchal region of the state.    

JNN