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Upper castes, Pappu Yadav: Decisive factors in Bihar poll?

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Rajesh Ranjan "Pappu Yadav" at his house in New Delhi on 04/05/2009. A special CBI court convicted Pappu Yadav in the Ajit Sarkar murder case. Photo by Shailendra Pandey/Tehelka
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Upper caste voters and the Jana Adhikar Party of Pappu Yadav may significantly influence results of the coming Bihar assembly elections. While the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine has been leaving no stone unturned to give the electoral battle a forward versus backward caste character, recent voting patterns, however, indicate that the BJP-led NDA enjoys an advantage on this count too.

Contrary to the calculations of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and one of his predecessors, Lalu Prasad Yadav, upper castes constituting 14-15 percent of the total voters may turn out to be important factors given their monolithic pattern of voting as shown in the April-May 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the by-elections later on. In the parliamentary poll 78 percent of upper caste voters had cast in favour of the NDA, the highest in the overall voting pattern by any social group.

Various opinion surveys are pointing out that this time too, the trend is likely to remain the same although there are murmurs of discontent among the upper castes against the Narendra Modi government’s failure to increase the minimum support price of agricultural commodities and the prime minister’s attempt to amend the land acquisition act. In addition to the upper caste voters, the Vaishyas, constituting about six percent of the electorate, are likely to remain on the NDA’s side.

Contrary to this picture, the Yadavs, constituting about 14 percent of the electorate, are now a divided lot. During the 2014 parliamentary election also, the Yadav votes got fragmented and a significant section had voted for the BJP. But this time, the scenario has become more complicated for Lalu Prasad Yadav as the popularity graph of Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, a former RJD stalwart and now the leader of the Jana Adhikar Party, is showing continuous signs of increase.

Pappu’s outfit is now an important constituent of the Third Front led by the Samajwadi Party and he draws his strength mostly from the younger sections of Yadav voters. Although much of the national-level media has described him as a ‘vote katwa’ (spoiler), Papuu may show unexpected results in the Kosi belt comprising the districts of Supaul, Madhepura and Saharsha and in the neighbouring Muslim dominated Seemanchal region comprising the districts of Araria, Purnea, Katihar and Kishengunj.

Together, these two regions have 37 assembly seats. As the NDA is weak in this region the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine could hope to consolidate its tally from here had it not been for Pappu’s presence. In the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, the BJP could not open its account in the seven seats of these two regions. The Kosi belt has 13 assembly seats. Of them the BJP has only one – Saharsha.

These are the two areas both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav were targeting, given the latter’s famous formula of Muslim-Yadav combination. Recent years have however witnessed the rapid decimation of the influence of Sharad Yadav, the JD-U president, in the Kosi belt and the gradual passing off of the mantle to Pappu. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Pappu and his wife Ranjita Ranjan had won the Madhepura and Supaul seats. The most interesting part of their victory was the fact that while Pappu had won as a RJD candidate, his wife won on the Congress ticket. It showed that they can attract Yadav votes irrespective of party affiliation.

On the whole, the NDA is aiming for an upper caste-extreme backward caste(EBC)-Dalit consolidation. It has reasons to be optimistic in this segment as in the last Lok Sabha poll, 42 percent of the Dalits and 53 percent of EBC voters had voted for the NDA. Interestingly the EBC voters constitute 24 percent of the state electorate. Moreover, for making inroads into the Yadav camp, the BJP-led NDA has this time nominated 26 Yadav candidates. In addition, Pappu’s outfit is contesting 64 seats. So, all eyes will be fixed on the electoral behavior of the Yadavs.

This community’s leadership question is now at cross-roads. It enjoyed a modicum of sober leadership during the time of Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav. But its next messiah, Lalu Prasad, is a convicted man now.

Rabri Devi, Lalu’s wife, lost in the 2005 assembly poll. In 2010, she lost in two seats and in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll she again lost in Saran. Lalu experimented by fielding his daughter Misa for the Pataliputra parliamentary seat in 2014. But Misa also lost, though the constituency has a large Yadav concentration.

(by Amitava Mukherjee ,IANS)
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Punjab’s Aam Aadmi Party and Its Political Self Goals

Each one of the top leaders in the AAP Punjab unit is on its own journey

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Punjab's Aam Aadmi Party Is In Confusion, Due To Political Self Goals
Punjab's Aam Aadmi Party Is In Confusion, Due To Political Self Goals, Flickr

For a political party that was taking a serious shot at coming to power in Punjab less than two years ago, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to have gone wayward.

Despite the electorate in Punjab reposing trust in the party by making it the principal opposition in the first ever assembly polls that it contested in February last year, the party leadership in Punjab and in Delhi have brought it to a new political low with a series of flip-flops and self-goals.

The AAP, which has 20 seats in the 117-member state assembly, relegated the formidable political alliance of the Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP to a humiliating third slot but is fast losing its votebank in the state.

In recent by-elections, be it for Lok Sabha or assembly seats, the AAP candidates have not only fared badly but had to face humiliation by even losing their security deposits.

In the Shahkot assembly seat bypoll last month, the AAP candidate got a mere 1,900 votes.

Each one of the top leaders in the AAP Punjab unit is on its own journey while the Delhi leadership of the party, including AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab in-charge Manish Sisodia, show wariness, indifference and even suspicion about the Punjab leaders.

Senior AAP leader and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira is known to shoot off his mouth on every matter. His recent comments justifying the ‘Referendum 2020’ propped up by foreign-based radical elements who are demanding a separate Sikh homeland, or Khalistan, has sparked a new controversy for him and the AAP.

Khaira, a former Congressman, has left the party embarrassed on earlier occasions as well.

Just about two years back, the AAP was riding high on popularity in Punjab and many believed it was all set to form its first full-fledged state government.

That was not to be Kejriwal and his core group of leaders seem to have lost interest in Punjab affairs for now. Kejriwal’s apology to senior Akali Dal leader and former cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia earlier this year, which happened without even consulting the Punjab leadership of the party, led to resignations within the party with the cadres on the ground feeling disappointed.

AAP has scrapped the list of its Donors, leading to its own volunteers launching a Chanda Bandh Satyagraha against their own party.
AAP has scrapped the list of its Donors, leading to its own volunteers launching a Chanda Bandh Satyagraha against their own party.

AAP Punjab unit president and MP Bhagwant Mann, who has had his own string of controversies earlier, and co-president Aman Arora, resigned from their posts after Kejriwal’s sudden apology.

Kejriwal and other AAP leaders, in the run-up to the 2017 assembly polls, had openly accused Majithia of patronising the drugs mafia in Punjab. They even called him a “drug lord”.

When Majithia went to court in a defamation case against the AAP leadership, the Delhi leaders chickened out and Kejriwal wrote an apology letter to Majithia.

Offering apologies and doing voluntary service (kar seva) to atone for political sins is nothing new for AAP leaders.

The ‘Youth Manifesto’ of AAP, released before the assembly polls, carried a photograph of ‘Harmandir Sahib’, the holiest and most revered Sikh shrine of Sikh religion, with an image of a broom, the AAP’s party symbol. This led to a religious uproar in Sikh dominated Punjab.

Kejriwal and other leaders washed utensils at the Golden Temple complex to “atone” for the political and religious faus pax.

AAP leader Ashish Khetan compared the same manifesto to religious scriptures like Granth Sahib, the Bible and the Gita. The AAP had to again seek forgiveness for this.

The AAP’s stand on sharing of river waters varies in Delhi and Punjab, leaving the party embarrassed at times.

Chanda Bandh Satyagraha back in Delhi after successful Campaign in Punjab, Feb 24th 2017
Chanda Bandh Satyagraha back in Delhi after successful Campaign in Punjab, Feb 24th 2017

The electorate in Punjab, which gave four seats to AAP (out of 13 Lok Sabha seats), has been left disaapointed. Two of the AAP MPs continue to be suspended from the party for the last three years.

Also read: Dogfight in Aam Aadmi Party : The audio clip of Kumar Vishwas reveals the party is no longer for principles but for personal aspirations

If AAP is to revive its position in Punjab, its leadership — in Punjab and in Delhi — would have to take drastic steps to stop the erosion of its base. Otherwise, the party would end up being a one-time wonder. (IANS)