Battle for cow belt, Bengal

Battle for cow belt, Bengal

Three to go: The Lok Sabha battle shifts decisively to the Hindi heartland and Bengal this week

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI file photo

It’s a combination of Hindutva and Moditva that will matter for the BJP as Lok Sabha election 2019 enters its last three phases in the heartland of identity politics in the Hindi belt. While arithmetic seems to weigh in favour Opposition alliance, there is no strong anti-Modi sentiment on the ground, which could work in favour of the BJP.

The fifth phase of Lok Sabha elections on May 6 will cover seats in the hotbed of Ramjanmabhoomi movement, Faizabad, the high profile constituencies of Raebareli, Amethi and Lucknow.

At the same it will also see voting in the far-off parched regions of Bundelkhand as well communally sensitive Howrah, where the police had last year arrested three persons for allegedly spreading hate videos.

Of the 51 parliamentary constituencies spread across seven states that will go to polls on May 6, 14 are in Uttar Pradesh, 12 in Rajasthan, seven each in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, five in Bihar, four in Jharkhand and two in Jammu and Kashmir. In a way, the fifth phase seats will be a test case for all sorts of issues being raised across the political spectrum—Hindu pride, Vikas, Nyay and dynasty politics. 

Uttar Pradesh

Although polling on almost half of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh are over, it is still not clear which way the wind is blowing. The polling has now moved into its crucial phase as the next three rounds will involve seats mostly in the eastern part of the state, which had been swept by the BJP in 2014. Interestingly, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and BSP are also very strong in the region owing to the presence of a sizable number of Yadavs, Jatavs (SC) and Muslims, considered to be their vote banks. Congress, too, is quite strong in pockets and its nominees are likely to make inroads into the vote banks of both the grand alliance and the BJP.

The next phases of polling in the state will witness fierce contests, especially in Amethi and Raebareli, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi’s constituencies, respectively. Azamgarh, Akhilesh Yadav’s seat, will go to polls in the sixth phase while polling in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seat, Varanasi, will be held on May 19. With stakes high for the BJP, its ‘one-man army’ Narendra Modi has been criss-crossing the eastern region of UP, addressing election rallies almost on a daily basis. Modi will be addressing rallies in Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Mau, Ballia, Jaunpur, Allahabad and other places in the next several days. 

The SP-BSP combine looks strong if one goes purely by electoral arithmetic, underpinned by caste logic. Their combined vote share in 2014 was more than that of the BJP on a majority of the seats in the region. 


When Modi flew down to Muzaffarpur in Bihar on Tuesday, he took a jibe at his opponents and said that “the last three phases of elections were merely a formality as opposition leaders will face such a defeat that they won’t be able to elect even a Leader of the Opposition.”

His assertion seems to be more rhetoric than his actual confidence of a repeat of the 2014 performance. Except for Muzaffarpur, there is a fierce fight in the remaining four constituencies – Hajipur, Saran, Sitamarhi and Madhubani -- on May 6.

It will be worth watching whether BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who in 2014 defeated Rabri Devi from Saran, will romp home this time. Lalu has fielded his ‘samdhi’ (Tej Pratap’s father-in-law), Chandrika Rai, an eight-term legislator, from Saran. Chandrika is the son of former Bihar CM Daroga Prasad Rai. In the 2014 polls, Rabri got more than three lakh votes but still lost to Rudy by around 40,000 votes as JD(U)’s Salim Parvez made a dent into her M-Y (Muslim Yadav) vote-bank. This time, Salim is backing RJD.

An equally interesting battle is in Hajipur, where Ram Vilas Paswan is pulling out all stops to ensure that his younger brother Pashupati Kumar Paras wrests the seat. But it’s a prestige battle for Tejashwi Yadav, too, as his assembly constituency Raghopur comes under Hajipur.

West Bengal

The fifth phase of polling will take place in south Bengal, which is a TMC stronghold. Apart from Barrackpore, where TMC strongman and former MLA Arjun Singh joined BJP just before the elections, the ruling party in the state is unlikely to face any stiff challenge. 

Singh has considerable organisational clout in the constituency, which has a significant number of Hindi-speaking voters who have traditionally voted for BJP. He played a key role in ensuring the victory of TMC candidate Dinesh Trivedi in 2014 with a margin of over two lakh votes. This time, Trivedi might find the going tough. The Barrackpore constituency will also indicate how much of a challenge the BJP will be to the TMC in the state and whether its tactics of roping in leaders of other parties to field them as candidates will pay off.  Among the poll-bound constituencies in the upcoming phase, Modi has so far campaigned in Sreerampur and Barrackpore. He kicked up a storm in Sreerampur when he claimed that 40 TMC MLAs were in touch with him, prompting furious charges of horse-trading from the TMC.

Madhya Pradesh

The next round of Lok Sabha polls in Madhya Pradesh appears to be tough for the Congress, which had reasons to rejoice in the April 29 phase of voting. In the seven seats going to polls on May 6, the BJP looks stronger in four while the Congress has an edge in the other three. However, BJP is hamstrung by intra-party feuds in Tikamgarh, Damoh and Khajuraho in the Bundelkhand region. The outcome in Rewa and Satna seats in Vindhya largely depends on caste arithmetic. Hoshangabad seat in Mahakoshal has shown a deceptive calm despite election rallies by Modi and Rahul Gandhi on April 30.


Of the 12 Lok Sabha constituencies going to polls on Monday, Jaipur Rural, Nagaur and Alwar are the most crucial ones. In Jaipur rural, the two main candidates happen to be sportspersons -- Rajyavardhan Rathore and Krishna Poonia, who have ventured straight into the wheat fields, temples, villages, hospitals and beyond, clicking selfies with villagers or driving a tractor. While Singh is banking on Modi’s clout and Rajput votes, Congress’ Poonia is relying on the Jat community, which she hails from.  In Nagaur, Congress has fielded Jyoti Mirdha, who was an MP in 2009 as well. She is the granddaughter of Nathu Ram Mirdha, a Jat community stalwart. The BJP has fielded its alliance partner Hanuman Beniwal of RLP, who also has a good following among Jats. His newly found party won three seats in the December assembly polls. Since the Jat votes of this constituency are likely to divide, Muslim and Dalit votes will be the deciding factor. 

Alwar -- infamous for lynchings of three dairy farmers over suspicions of cow-smuggling — is set to witness a tough battle between the erstwhile royal and former Union minister Bhawar Jitendra Singh of Congress and the BJP’s Mahant Balaknath of the Rohtak-based Asthal Bohar Math.

Congress is banking on SCs and Muslims and also trying to make inroads into the Yadav vote-bank, traditionally supporters of BJP. The fight has become triangular with Imran Khan of the BSP pinning hopes on minority and SC/ST votes.

All three seats were won by BJP in 2014. But in the 2018 bypoll,  Congress candidate Karan Singh Yadav defeated BJP candidate Jaswant Singh Yadav.