Lok Sabha Elections 2024: In the BJP Vs SP Vs BSP Battle in Faizabad, Dalits Hold Key

While the saffron party’s campaign revolved around the Ram temple consecration, the Opposition is trying to change the focus of the narrative from “Ram” to “Samvidhan”.
Key contenders: (from L to R) Sacchidanand Pandey of the BSP, Lallu Singh of the BJP and Awadhesh Prasad of the SP
Key contenders: (from L to R) Sacchidanand Pandey of the BSP, Lallu Singh of the BJP and Awadhesh Prasad of the SPPhoto: Free Press Journal

Lucknow: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s intense campaign for the Lok Sabha elections revolved around the Ram temple consecration, making the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat — which includes Ayodhya — a prestige fight for the saffron party. Meanwhile, the Opposition is trying to change the focus of the narrative from “Ram” to “Samvidhan” (Constitution).

However, the electoral battle in this parliamentary segment is not just about Hindutva and temple politics; it has its roots in the intricate caste system as well. Nine-time Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA Awadhesh Prasad, who is the party’s Dalit face, and sitting BJP MP Lallu Singh, who is among the BJP leaders who have stated that the party needs 400 seats to “change the Constitution”, are vying for control of the prominent seat, which will go to polls in the fifth phase (May 20) of ongoing general elections.

While Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of members in the Lok Sabha (80), making it a politically significant state, all eyes are set on Faizabad where polling will be held along with a number of other notable constituencies, including Amethi, Raebareli, Barabnki, Kesarganj and Lucknow.

Singh, the BJP’s seasoned leader, is running for reelection (a third time in a row) after winning the seat in 2014 and 2019. The focal point of his campaign is Narendra Modi. He claims that by dedicating the Ram temple, the prime minister realized a 500-year-old dream and that he will now bring Lord Krishna to Mathura.

His campaign songs also aim to remind people that Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is being opposed by individuals who “fired at Ram bhakts (devotees)” — a reference to the action by then SP government led by late Mulayam Singh Yadav against kar sevaks or volunteers in 1990.

The saffron party is also touting “the drastic infrastructure development” in Ayodhya, which includes the new Ayurveda Medical College, the roads and the train station.

How important this seat is for the BJP, which is ruling the Centre as well as the state, can be gauged from the fact that Prime Minister Modi conducted a roadshow here on May 5. The purpose of this tour was to convey to the other backward castes (OBC) and Dalit voters that Ayodhya was more than just “Kamandal” and saffron politics.

But Singh’s comments about the Constitution have given Akhilesh Yadav, the chief of the opposition Samajwadi Party (SP), fodder to attack the BJP. He stated at a recent public meeting in Faizabad, “Food, clothes and houses are necessary, but it is also equally important for us to save the Constitution.”

On a seat where the Dalits comprise about 25% of the voter base, the SP is relying on Prasad to get a portion of the community’s support.

The sitting MLA of Milkipur, Prasad, has been highlighting his “local connect” and making references to Ram — albeit in a more playful way. In addition to being an Ayodhya native, he adds, “I have Ram in my heart because my brother, father, and father-in-law are all named Ram.”

His political career started in 1977 when he became victorious in his first assembly election from Ayodhya's Sohawal assembly constituency. He has won assembly elections in 1985, 1989, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2012.

Of the five Assembly segments, which make up the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat, four are held by the BJP (Dariyabad, Rudauli, Bikapur and Ayodhya), and one (Milkipur) is represented by the SP.

Previous winners of the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat include the BJP (1999, 2014 and 2019), the BSP (2004), the Congress (2009) and the SP (1998). When the SP and BSP ran together in the 2019 elections, Lallu won by a margin of more than 65,000 votes, which is significantly less than the margin of more than 1 lakh votes in the 2014 elections when the two parties contested separately.

Apart from the intense campaign, residents of Ayodhya are pleased with the Ram temple and its secondary advantages, but they also want the government to pay attention to their worries about potential losses as a result of road widening and VVIP events.

Pallavi Kumari, a student of Saket Degree College, Ayodhya, hopes that the new government will address the issues faced by the youth.

“Whoever wins and forms the government, not hollow promises, we need a roadmap to have the confidence that jobs and employment opportunities will be created. All parties make tall claims, but it is our turn to see who comes to take care of us after the elections,” she said.

Faizabad resident Santosh Kumar is happy with the ongoing infrastructural development of his city that include construction of roads, renovation of old buildings, etc.

But at the same time, he is worried about surging prices of land and shops in Ayodhya. “The local market here will soon be taken over by big business houses. Small shops will soon be replaced with huge malls.”

Prashant Trivedi stated, “Muslims and Dalits will support the INDIA bloc candidate, while Brahmins will primarily support the BJP.”

Singh, the seasoned leader of the BJP, is counting on the Hindu vote to stay consistent. The party office on Ram Path, next to Hanuman Garhi, is where his team, under the direction of Kamla Kant, is leading the election campaign.

He is knocking on doors to hold onto the seat he initially won in 2014 and kept in the general election of 2019 despite riding high on the Ram Mandir wave.

Caste arithmetic: Dalit (26%), Muslims (14%), Kurmi (12%), Yadav (12%), Brahmin (12%), Rajput (6%), Vaish (4%), Kewat/Mallah/Nishad (5%), Other OBC (12%).

Earlier, in the 2019 elections, the BJP and its allies Apna Dal(S) won 64 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state, making a joke of all electoral mathematics of the “Bua-Bhatija” (BSP-SP) alliance and flipping all estimates upside down.

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