Katheria locked in a close fight with Suman

Katheria locked in a close fight with Suman

By JOYEETA BASU | AGRA, U.P | 5 April, 2014
Shamiuddin and his friend Sunil Gupta. Inset: Naushad Ansari | Photographs by Sanjay Vishwakarma

The battle for Agra will be formidable, with the BSP and the BJP locked in a close fight in this reserved constituency. The BJP won the seat against the BSP in 2009 by a slender margin of 9,715 votes, after which Mayawati made Agra one of her priorities. She selected her candidate, Narayan Singh Suman in June 2013. Suman and his son, Swadesh, have been reaching out to people ever since. However, BJP's sitting MP, Ramshankar Katheria, too has been consolidating his base.

The latest entrant in Agra's poll fray is the Aam Aadmi Party. BSP leaders hope that the fledgling will eat into the BJP's votes by a couple of thousands. "Even that will help us," says a BSP worker. Where does this leave the Congress, which won the seat in 1999 and 2004? Confined inside the party office at Sanjay Place. There, around seven-eight men laze around on a mattress, trying to convince this newspaper about the greatness of the Gandhi Family. "Sanjay Place is named after Sanjay Gandhi," one of them says, laying claim to a locality which also houses the offices of the BJP, the SP and the AAP. However, not one of them claims that they will win the Agra seat.

When asked about the close margin, BJP's Ramesh Katheria says that he was new in 2009 and will not repeat the mistakes he committed then. "And I have Narendra Modi." BSP's Swadesh Suman, who is handling his father's campaign, says he has Behenji.

But the talk today is about the inauguration of the BJP's new office. At the venue are five Muslim men, four of whom have joined the party just a few days ago. One of them, Maulana Naushad Ansari is cryptic: "Unless we give a chance to Modi, how will we know what he can do?" Atiqur Rehman Ajmeri, who has been associated with the BJP for nearly three decades voices similar sentiments. According to the duo, 500-600 Muslims attended a BJP meeting at Rahul Nagar, Bodla a few days ago.

Say this to the two maulanas sitting at Narayan Suman's house and pat comes the retort, "Bhaare ka Musalman (rented Muslims)." A chance meeting with Mohammed Shamiuddin, an auto-rickshaw driver, in Tajganj lends some credence to the claim made by the "rented Muslims". "We get Muslim tourists from Gujarat who ask us what Mayawati or Mulayam have done for us. They say they are better off there, happier. So why shouldn't I support Modi?" Shamiuddin asks.

The BSP has a stranglehold over Agra's 3 lakh Jatav population, while the BJP has its hold over Vaishyas, numbering to around 250,000. The other major communities are Yadavs, Thakurs, Brahmins, Muslims, Baghels, Nishads, Kushwahas, and Jats, among others. The BSP is trying to stitch up a Jatav-Muslim-Brahmin combination. How far that fabric holds, remains to be seen. But Swadesh Suman sounds confident about caste loyalties and hopes that voters will remember the development work done by Mayawati when she was UP Chief Minister. When she was CM, Mayawati gifted Agra with Torrent, a power distribution company. There is much anger against Torrent, especially because of high electricity bills. BJP's Katheria is making full use of this. He held a janta durbar and got some electricity bills reduced. He is also accessible. As the auto drivers say, "Call him on his mobile and he will be here in 30 minutes." Talk to a cobbler and he says something similar about the Sumans. Agra will see a tough fight

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