Uttar Pradesh: Mohammad Basiullah found himself in a bind ahead of the third phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday.
His heart was with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav but his head suggested he vote for local Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Kamlesh Diwakar.
Basiullah wanted Akhilesh to remain chief minister and Diwakar to win from Bilhaur, a constituency reserved for the Scheduled Castes.
“I’m conflicted,” the tea stall owner said. So were many of his customers on Friday. They hoped they would be able to resolve the dilemma before they reached the polling booths on Sunday morning.
Basiullah and his friends view Diwakar as the best choice for MLA and describe Samajwadi nominee Shiv Kumar Beria as ” bekar” (useless).
“Diwakar has good manners and helps the poor with money during weddings and other exigencies. He’s there whenever you need him,” Azhar Khan said.
But they like Akhilesh too. “His performance has been good beyond words. Barring Amma (Jayalalithaa), there’s none like him,” Basiullah said.
Basiullah’s wife had made up her mind to ignore local considerations and vote for the “useless” Beria to help Akhilesh stay chief minister.
Akhilesh would need many others to follow her example. For, in many seats that voted today, poor candidate selection or anger at the sitting Samajwadi MLA was threatening to offset the goodwill for the chief minister.
Such confusion among the Muslim voters could cost Akhilesh. The Samajwadi strategy has been to consolidate the 19 per cent Muslim vote and 10 per cent Yadav vote and rely on the chief minister’s record of performance to attract others.
Samajwadi poll managers believe that a 25-30 per cent vote share would be enough in a three-way contest. They are hoping that the alliance with the Congress would persuade most Muslims to pick Akhilesh over Mayawati.
Despite all the negatives of the poor candidate selection, increasing crime, the administration’s alleged Yadav tilt and a very public family feud, the chief minister seems to enjoy a groundswell of goodwill across age groups, castes and communities.
Even those who said they would not vote for him tempered their criticism of the Samajwadi ” goonda raj” with acknowledgement of Akhilesh’s “good work”.
“But what use is his goodness when he can’t stop his people from engaging in crime and corruption?” said Ranjit Dwivedi in Farrukhabad. He accused local Samajwadi MLA Vijay Singh, who is contesting again, of patronising criminals.
Arpit Singh, a young man from Karnpura in Kannauj district, was kinder to the chief minister.
He said that while criminals did wrest the upper hand whenever the Samajwadi Party was in power, the situation under Akhilesh had been “much better” compared with the “goonda raj” his father Mulayam used to preside over.
“Crime is at a high level even now, but the ordinary people are not affected so much,” Arpit, an MSc student, said.
He added that he too would have voted for the BJP like many others in his village had the party projected someone as good as Akhilesh as its candidate for chief minister.
Akhilesh’s situation resembles that of Nitish Kumar in the run-up to the Bihar elections of 2015, when the chief minister’s clean image and record of performance continued to impress voters despite his compulsion-driven alliance with the “lawless” Lalu Prasad.
In Bihar, the BJP’s shrill campaign failed. The Samajwadi-Congress combine is hoping for a repeat in Uttar Pradesh. Unlike Bihar, though, the contest here is triangular.
The non-Yadav backward castes and the extremely backward classes in Bihar had remained with Nitish despite the BJP’s best efforts. In Uttar Pradesh, a “communal” undercurrent may be pushing the non-Yadav backward castes towards the BJP.
Most important, Bihar’s Muslims had only one pole to cluster round: the “grand alliance” of the Janata Dal United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. The Muslims of Uttar Pradesh have a second option in the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has fielded some 100 candidates from the community.
Brand Akhilesh needs to surmount all these odds. That the BJP is not projecting a chief ministerial candidate and seems to lack a leader to match him could prove to be Akhilesh’s biggest trump card.