New Delhi: A vote between development and caste affiliations is nowhere more stark and decisive than in the political powder keg of Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh. Known for its dreaded mafia and opium factory, BJP’s Manoj Sinha is unfazed even by the great odds of the caste equations stacked against him when faced with the SP-BSP gathbandhan candidate.

Ghazipur Caste Conundrum

Sinha comes from the locally dominant Bhumihar caste, often considered a branch of mainstream Brahmins, which is, however, quite less in number so far as the constituency’s demography goes.

Bhumiihars make up for just 55,000 voters in Ghazipur, while the caste odds stacked against this BJP candidate are humongous.

The combined caste and Muslim votes of the SP-BSP combination based on the numerical strength of Muslims, Yadavs and Dalits is daunting. While there are four lakh Yadav voters in the constituency, another four are Dalits, and around 1.5 lakh are Muslim.

On the other hand, OBC’s other than Yadav which are now considered as BJP’s vote bank also make up for about three lakh voters. Among the upper caste Thakurs number some two lakh, while Brahmins and Bhumihars combined with others account for some 1.5lakh votes.

SP-BSP banking on M-D-Y combo

The gathbandhan candidate Afzal Ansari is harping on his Muslim-Yadav-Dalit combination. If the 2014 vote count is considered, SP and BSP together polled 5.16 lakh votes (SP-2.74 lakh and BSP-2.41 lakh).

Against this, the BJP’s Sinha had polled 3.06 lakh votes.

The odds against Sinha are evident even on this count. In 2004, the same Ansari had defeated Sinha by a margin of over two lakh votes. But, in 2014 polls, Ansari had bagged a battered third position when he had contested from Ballia. He got just 1.5 lakh votes.

But, what needs to be considered is that Sinha was facing SP’s Shivkanya Kushwaha, a non-Yadav OBC himself, and had posted a rather slender victory by a margin of 32,452 votes. But this time, since he is faced with a Muslim candidate, the BJP is in a better position to corner most of the non-Yadav OBC votes in the constituency.

Why is Sinha confident

The BJP and Sinha are convinced of a victory despite such debilitating circumstances, at least on the face of it, as they are positive that development will trump caste affiliations in Ghazipur.

A peek into the slew of development projects started and completed by Sinha reveals that Sinha inaugurated 90 projects, small and big, in Ghazipur just before the model code of conduct came into force.

He has given Ghazipur, not just a model and modern railway station, but a four-lane highway too: Tarighat-Zamania-Syedraja. The long-awaited rail-cum-road bridge on Ganga at Tarighat is near completion connecting the two parts of the constituency separated by the mighty river. The Tarighat-Bare road has been designated as national highway and work has already begun.

Through Sinha’s efforts, now a backward Ghazipur is on its way to get a medical college. While earlier, the nearest good medical facility was only to be received at BHU in Varanasi, some 70-km from Ghazipur to be covered in more than two hours, thanks to bad roads, the Prime Minister in 2018 laid the foundation stone of the medical college.

A new sports stadium too is under construction in the constituency.

Akhilesh’s ironical bonhomie with Ansari

Ansari, however, presents a rather ironical climb down by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. It was the question of the merger of Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal with the SP just before the 2017 state assembly elections that had driven a wedge in the Yadav family. While Akhilesh was against the merger, accusing Ansari of having a long and tainted criminal background, his uncle and now the head of the breakaway faction of the SP Shivpal Yadav wanted the merger to go through.

After being snubbed by SP, the QED found a willing partner in BSP’s Mayawati who found the Ansaris ideally fitting her pro-Muslim stance. Ironically, Ansari had formed QED in 2010 after being ousted from the BSP.

Ansari is the brother of the dreaded mafia don Mukhtar Ansari who is accused of having masterminded the assassination of another local heavyweight and a Bhumihar leader Krishnanand Rai. Rai was a sitting BJP MLA when he was gunned down. Incidentally, his wife Alka Rai became BJP MLA in 2017 from the same Mohammadabad seat fighting against Mukhtar’s brother. The win came with the staunch support of Sinha.