Bhojpuri film personality Dinesh Lal Yadav aka Nirahua is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate against Samjawadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav in this seat that votes on Sunday. The contest here illustrates the BJP’s core strategy for Uttar Pradesh: assimilate or isolate the Yadav community, which has become the fulcrum of a social compact challenging its pre-eminence in Uttar Pradesh under the SP’s alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).“The BJP campaign has focussed on isolating ‘Ahir and Chamar’ (Yadavs and Jatavs, key supporters of the SP and the BSP respectively). Within this, there is a special focus to isolate and target the Yadavs,” said Ramji Yadav, editor of Gaon Ke Log, a progressive Hindi magazine published from Varanasi, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a candidate.“Gunda raj, corruption and jaatiwaad — these are the three words that the BJP campaigners use publicly, but in whisper campaign over the years they have perfected the usage of these terms to target the Yadavs,” he said, adding that the SP dispensations over the years and the monopolisation of the party by one family have made it vulnerable to criticism. For the record though, the BJP maintains that its focus is on corruption and nepotism of both parties. “SP and BSP claim to represent all backward castes and Dalits but the reality is that they only protect the interests of the families of their leaders,” said Dr. Chandramohan, UP BJP spokesperson. Campaigning for Nirahua this week, Mr. Modi mentioned ‘jaatiwaad’ several times, but for most part of his 20-minute speech he remained focussed on what he called “appeasement politics of SP, BSP and Congress” that linked Azamgarh to terrorist incidents in many places in India. Linking his claims about containing domestic terrorism to his strident position against Pakistan, he reiterated his signature statement of his campaign speeches this season: “We have hit the terrorist in their homes.” Muslims, who constitute a significant chunk of the voters in the constituency, are solidly behind the SP-BSP alliance, and the BJP propaganda portrays the SP as their protectors.Yadavs wield influence disproportionate to their population and the BJP has over the last two decades sought the consolidation of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits. Bijay Yadav, editor of Hindi daily Debbrat, in Azamgarh, believes this strategy of the BJP had peaked in 2014 and has been on decline since. “The lower castes have seen through the BJP plans,” he said. The Hindutva party has managed to woo a section of Yadavs, particularly in urban areas. Neelima Kumari is a PhD scholar at BHU in Varanasi, working on a thesis on class, race, and gender intersectionality in African American feminist bell hooks’ (she does not use capitals apparently) works. A Yadav, she is planning to vote for Mr. Modi. She cites the local development work in the town — streetlights, traffic signals, and over-bridges — as main reasons for her support for Mr. Modi. She does not want to be identified as a leftist or a rightist, and is opposed to ‘rigid’ views of the RSS. “My father who grew up in a village in Chandauli has told me stories about discrimination and oppression, but I have not experienced them and therefore I cannot relate to caste identity,” she said. Still, co-opting the Yadavs is not easy and isolation has been the emphasis in this election for the BJP. “Upper caste supporters of the BJP have popularised a slogan about Mulayam (Akhilesh’s father). That he was earlier the leader of Muslims and Yadavs; then he was reduced to be the leader of only Yadavs, and then of one Yadav family and now he is apparently the leader only of Akhilesh Yadav,” said Ramesh Kumar Maurya, who leads Jansanskriti Manch, a Left-leaning cultural organisation in Azamgarh. “Upper caste BJP supporters have also been raising a hue and cry about Dimple Yadav (Akhilesh’s wife) touching BSP leader Mayawati’s feet at a public event. How could you a touch a Dalit’s feet is the refrain,” said Manoj Singh, a writer and activist in Gorakhpur. But all this is unlikely to sway the Yadavs in any significant measure. “Yadavs have been at the receiving end as a community under the Modi-Yogi raj. And regardless of their occasional flirtation with Hindutva, they would vote overwhelmingly this time to defeat the BJP,” said Talat Aziz, a Congress leader in Gorakhpur.“Akhilesh bhaiyya is a strong leader and he is the force behind the alliance,” said Karan Yadav, a 30-year old driver who works at a hotel in Gorakhpur who hails from a village in Bansgaon constituency. “The alliance is strong and no vote will drift,” he said. In Kushi Nagar, where the alliance has fielded a Kushwaha candidate, Yadavs were showing signs of rebellion, but last-minute intervention by Akhilesh appeared to have consolidated his core base.

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