Any mention of BJP MP Kalraj Mishra, also the Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, elicits unhappiness in the crowded vegetable market near Police Line Gate in Deoria. “2014 ke baad dikhe hi nahi mantra-ji. Sirf fita kaatne aate hain. We didn’t hear from him (Kalraj Mishra) after the 2014 elections. He comes here only to cut ribbons,” customers from varied backgrounds told The Sunday Guardian, launching a scathing attack on their MP. “If it was not for his dull performance, the BJP would have swept all seven seats in Deoria,” they added.
The resentment against the BJP MPs was distinct in many other districts in Purvanchal, where the general perception was that their poor performance is the reason BJP may do worse than its 2014 lead, when it won all the Lok Sabha seats in east UP, barring Azamgarh, SP veteran Mulayam Singh Yadav’s citadel for several years. Of the 89 seats in the region, some voted on Saturday, 4 March. Others will vote on 8 March.

Sixty kilometres away from Deoria, in Ghosi, MP Harinarayan Rajbhar of BJP, whom most locals described as a “faceless leader”, is also blamed of lacklustre performance. “If you chance to meet him, do tell us how he looks like,” mocks a dhaba owner opposite Sarvoday P.G. College in Ghosi, arousing instant laughter from many men in their 30s.

“This guy (Harinarayan Rajbhar) cannot list one achievement to his credit. In any case, who was he?” asked a customer, refusing to be quoted, as the debate intensified. Most of them said that by the end of his term, Rajbhar would be known only for the damage he would do to the credibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At present, however, PM Modi’s personal ratings are high across Purvanchal. The Bharatiya Janata Party created a record in 2014 when it won the Muslim dominated Ghosi for the first time in the Lok Sabha elections. Riding on the phenomenal “Modi wave”, little-known Rajbhar consolidated the Hindu votes and won hands down against the then incumbent Dara Singh Chauhan, securing 36.52% of the total votes polled in a three-way contest, which included the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The BJP’s vote base stands fragmented in Ghosi in 2017, and in its four Assembly constituencies, the national party is understood to be a formidable player in only Ghosi Sadar, courtesy the personal clout of turncoat BSP leader Fagu Singh Chouhan, who is contesting on the “lotus” symbol.

The non-Jatav Dalits, who had shown inclination towards the BJP, are back to Behenji’s fold. Admits Om Prakash, a visibly poor Dalit carpenter working in a make-believe, thatched-roof shop by the roadside at Parvezpur village in Madhuban, “In the 2014 elections, we know some people from our community had voted for the BJP. The Samajwadi Party discriminates against us. And Behenji was not going to be the Prime Minister. So, they voted for Modiji. They thought they would get ‘something’.” He clarified that none would vote for the BJP again, since despite Rajbhar winning the seat (Ghosi), “We don’t know anybody from the BJP.” “Only the ‘elephant’ (BSP symbol) is ours,” he said.

Chandauli MP Mahendra Nath Pandey, who had wrestled the seat from SP’s incumbent Ramkishun in 2014, polling a staggering 42.23% votes, has turned away the floating voters who had placed their faith in him on PM Modi’s name. “The BJP will scrape through in the towns, but their fate hangs in the balance in rural areas, where thanks to the complacent MP (Mahendra Nath Pandey), people are back to voting on caste lines,” said a group of youths who had gathered at IP Mughal Mall in Mughalsarai to watch a movie. “Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits are in large numbers across Chandauli. The 2014 wave is over,” a post graduate student, Keshav Maurya, added in a worrying tone. He said PM Modi’s integrity is intact despite the “note ban”.

In Mughalsarai’s Western Bazar office of the BJP it was obvious that the party was not leaving anything to chances and was heavily relying on booth management on the day of voting. Former mandal adhyaksh or block president of the BJP, Gopal Singh said, “We are confident of our victory. We have deployed 15-20 workers in each of the 98 booths. Our cadre strength is enviable.”

Complaints against Pandey grew sharper in Sakaldiha. “He (Mahendra Nath Pandey) didn’t even address a public meeting here in the last two-and-a-half years. He betrayed us during the floods in August-September last year. It was the SP leaders who took charge of the relief work. We have decided we will vote for the SP and teach him (Pandey) a lesson,” said Sanjay Singh, a mechanic in a garage in Sakaldiha. His companion Rakesh Yadav added the SP leaders were far more visible. “Be it a wedding or a funeral, you will always find them present. They mingle with us, unlike BJP leaders,” Yadav pointed out. Both said PM Modi is trustworthy but it is the local BJP leaders they have to deal with.

The SP scores a point on that front. Be it a four-lane highway, a flyover, or new dispensaries in villages, the SP has been able to sell its work to the people. The BJP MPs have aided the SP’s people-to-people contact programme by remaining invisible. “He (CM Akhilesh Yadav) got this flyover built soon after coming to power,” locals tell this reporter, pointing to the imposing Ramkaran Setu, which joins Sakaldiha in Chandauli and Saidpur in Ghazipur.

In Jaunpur, people have a long list of complaints about BJP MP Ram Charitra Nishad, who won the SC-reserved Machhlishahr Lok Sabha seat with 43.91% votes. “His performance will adversely impact the BJP as the SP and Congress are strong here. He is an absentee MP. Since 2014, he has not showed up. He has absolutely no connect with the people. He’s from Delhi. He won because of the Modi wave,” say three youths, Ankit Mishra, Saurabh Yadav and Dibyanshu Choubey in Jaunpur. Although the BJP had won only one of Jaunpur’s nine Assembly seats in 2012, it was expected to do much better this time given the BJP’s clean-sweep across the district in 2014. “That will not happen. Polarisation is not possible. While Nishad did nothing, Akhilesh has worked really hard. They even established a vidyut upkendra in Dhobi block,” most locals said.

In Lalganj, people were agitated with BJP’s Neelam Sonkar. PM Modi’s canvassing for Sonkar in 2014 had made history for the BJP, which had not won this Lok Sabha constituency before. “She will never win again,” said two youths, Ashok Yadav and Ujjwal, at a juice corner in Lalganj. Sonkar had defeated her nearest rival Bechai Saroj of the SP by more than 60,000 votes.

However, Manoj Sinha, MP from Ghazipur and Telecom Minister, drew mixed responses. In Mainpur village, Ghazipur, locals Pushkar Singh, Ramshankar Singh and Gopal Thakur said that all development related work started after Singh, who won against SP’s Shivkanya Kushwaha by barely 30,000 votes, was elected MP.