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In Eastern UP, the INDIA bloc is going all out for victory

Samajwadi Party supporters during a campaign rally in support of party candidate Dharmendra Yadav for the Lok Sabha polls in Azamgarh on May 21, 2024.

Samajwadi Party supporters during a campaign rally in support of party candidate Dharmendra Yadav for the Lok Sabha polls in Azamgarh on May 21, 2024. | Photo credit: PTI

Rising temperatures do not bother Jagananth Tiwari, in fact it is the only time he does brisk business. He pours extra sweet lassi into earthen glasses and is as generous with his political stance as topping the tumblers with an extra layer of cream.

Mr. Tiwari’s small roadside kiosk is in Manikpur Gram Sabha in Bhadohi Lok Sabha constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is a bipolar contest, he says, between the BJP and “alliance”, the word used to identify the INDIA block here. So is it the Samajwadi Party or the Congress? Mr. Tiwari replies with an emphatic no. “It’s the Bengali party,” he says. For a minute he is lost to the name of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which is contesting the seat as part of the INDIA bloc. But he is aware of the candidate – Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, a Congress rebel who switched to the TMC. Does he know the symbol, one asks, “Of course it is two branches and six petals,” comes the pat reply as he fishes out the small slip of paper with a picture of the EVM showing Mr. Tripathi’s face and TMC’s symbol. Bhadohi goes to polls on May 25.

Mr. Tiwari is not alone, on the other side of the seat is Mr. Tripathi identified as “alliance” candidate. This seat came into being after the delimitation exercise in 2008 and in the last three elections since, the BJP has held it twice and the BSP once. The SP and the Congress in the last two general elections are fighting for third place. Both SP and Congress voters do not hesitate to vote for the TMC, a relatively unknown entity here. “The day my candidature was announced, the SP leadership here handed over to me their entire organizational network going down to the booth level. It was easy to get the Congress workers going as I have old connections with them. Surprisingly, even AAP- workers, who may be few but highly motivated, campaigned from day one for the alliance,” said Mr. Tripathi.

The INDIA Bloc, since its ambitious beginnings in March 2023 as the overarching anti-BJP platform, has suffered several setbacks, including the exit of few of its founding member parties, such as Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). In Uttar Pradesh too, the alliance had a rocky start. The agonizing negotiations continued for weeks and a final seat-sharing arrangement was announced on 21 February, with the Samajwadi Party conceding 17 seats to the Congress.

Common goal

More than 160 km away from Bhadohi in Azamgarh at a corner rally for SP leader Dharmendra Yadav, the stage is festooned with Congress and SP flags. A group of Congress workers sit on the sidelines of the meeting. The bonhomie shown by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is not quite echoed by the cadres of the two parties. At best they are tolerating each other for a common goal – to defeat the BJP in this election. “It is important that the INDIA bloc does well. The roots of the Congress revival in the state lie in the INDIA bloc’s success in Uttar Pradesh,” explains Congress worker Ramvijay Singh. From his perspective, the Lok Sabha elections are the semi-finals of the final showdown three years later in the assembly elections.But that has not deterred Mr. Singh from attending all election rallies held for Mr. Yadav in the constituency.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during public meeting for Lok Sabha polls in Phulpur on May 19, 2024.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during public meeting for Lok Sabha polls in Phulpur on May 19, 2024. | Photo credit: PTI

Whether the cadres come together or not is immaterial to the voter. In the Deoria Lok Sabha seat, Mohammad Khurshid, a 55-year-old driver, does not miss a beat when asked who the contestants are. “There is Akhilesh Pratap Singh from alliance and Shashank Mani Tripathi of the BJP,” Mr Khurshid is quick to say. For him, it does not matter whether it is SP candidate or Congress, as long as it is alliance or the INDIA bloc is at war.

The BJP and particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated attacks on the “INDI alliance”, as the BJP refers to the group, have further contributed to its instant recognition. For example, at his election speech in Azamgarh, Mr. Modi said: “Put it in, but there is only one shop where they sell everything jhoot, appeasement and corruption. (They may be two parties, but they have a common shop where they sell lies, reconciliation and corruption).

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