In Gorakhpur and Deoria districts of Purvanchal, which together send 16 legislators to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, it is advantage BJP. If you stop at the city centre or drive your way to the main markets, you will find more people who affirm their allegiance to the ruling party at the Centre than those who support the SP or the BSP. If the assembly is of urban youth, “Modi, Modi” chants will follow if you initiate a conversation on the ongoing polls, reminding you of the strong wave for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 that saw BJP candidates winning in 71 of UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats.

“The Gorakhpur Urban seat will definitely go to the BJP, but in Gorakhpur Rural, BJP’s Vipin Singh is facing stiff competition from the Samajwadi Party, because incumbent MLA Vijay Bahadur Yadav of the national party has defected to the SP and is contesting on the ‘cycle’ symbol,” said locals on the outskirts of Gorakhpur. Most people, including quite a few rickshaw pullers and street vendors, said they would vote for the BJP, but acknowledged that the SP’s campaign was going strong.

However, the minority voters seem to be rooting for Mayawati, unhappy that the SP has fielded a BJP turncoat. “Vijay Bahadur used to taunt Muslims in his speeches. Why should we embrace him just because he is contesting from SP? We would rather vote for BSP’s Rajesh Pandey,” said Akbar, a youth. Another voter from the minority community, who introduced himself as Saddam, said Rajesh Pandey’s campaign is going strong and they would not vote for a BJP rebel. “Majority of the Muslims in Gorakhpur Rural are voting for the BSP,” he said. Another local, Pintoo Verma added: “The Dalit population is significant. If the SP loses the Muslim votes to BSP, it will become a two-way contest between the BJP and the BSP.”

A few kilometres away in Sahjanwa, where the Brahmin and Thakur population number nearly 40,000, BJP’s Sheetal Pandey is a strong contender. The Yadavs are somewhere close to 40,000, keeping Yashpal Rawat of the SP in the fray. The Dalit presence is strong, too. “It could be anybody’s game. The winner may scrape through a couple of thousand votes, but there is more hulla for the BJP,” said Vashisht Muni Singh and others at a photocopy shop at the main market near Thana Chowraha in Sahjanwa.

BJP’s strength was on display on 22 February when a 15,000 strong crowd gathered to cheer Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who had come to address a public meeting in Sahjanwa. But there is a fear among BJP supporters that if the BSP makes a dent in BJP’s Sahitwar votes (Singhs), then the national party might lose. The Muslims in general said they would vote for “cycle”.

The general perception is the BJP will retain the SC reserved constituency Khajani, which it won in 2012 comfortably and wrestle out Caimpiyarganj where NCP’s incumbent MLA Fateh Bahadur is trying his luck from the “lotus” symbol. In Pipraich, SP’s incumbent MLA Rajmati Devi is unpopular and it is likely BSP’s Aftab Alam, the lone Muslim candidate for the seat may split the minority votes. This tricky pitch offers a window to Mahendra Pal of the BJP, which stood a distant third in 2012.

In Chauri Chaura, where BJP president Amit Shah delivered a speech on 22 February, the BJP and its ally SBSP can wrestle the seat from BSP’s sitting MLA Jay Prakash, the locals said. In Chillupar and Bansgaon, the contest is between the SP and the BSP unless the strong support for PM Modi translates into votes swiftly. All nine seats in Gorakhpur—Gorakhpur Urban, Gorakhpur Rural, Chillupar, Bansgaon (SC), Chauri-Chaura, Khajani (SC), Sahjanwa, Pipraich and Caimpiyarganj—will vote on Saturday, 4 March.

In Deoria’s seven constituencies—Deoria, Rudrapur, Pathardeva, Rampur Karkhana, Bhatpar Rani, Salempur and Barhaj—where the voters will cast their ballots on Saturday, 4 March, people in general believe the BJP is strong in at least five. At a crowded vegetable mandi in Police Line Gate, Deoria, Sachidananda Pandey is discussing the upcoming polls with his customers. “It’s BJP vs BSP, but the national party is way ahead,” he tells this reporter, while all the others nod in agreement. “Janmejay Singh (BJP’s incumbent MLA) is not liked by the people. Any other candidate would have swept the constituency,” adds a customer. 

A few metres into the market, where a group of employees have halted to order their evening snacks at a road side egg-roll stall, people were seen complaining about the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance. “SP candidate J.P. Jaiswal is actually a Congressman, who is contesting on the SP symbol. Why should we vote for him? He finished fourth on a Congress ticket last time,” said the owner of the stall, Dhananjay. Most people said the contest is between the BSP and the BJP in most seats in Deoria, except in Rudrapur where Congress incumbent Akhilesh Pratap Singh has “worked very hard for the constituency”. In Pathardeva and Salempur, it is BJP vs SP, most locals said.

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