Saurabh Sharma | Apr 26, 2019 | 7 min read
Lok Sabha elections 2019: Why is Awadh the political heartland of Uttar Pradesh
If Uttar Pradesh is the heartland of Indian politics, then the historically-important Awadh region can be regarded as the heartland of Uttar Pradesh politics. Comprising 17 Lok Sabha constituencies, including a few high-profile seats, Awadh is undoubtedly a high-stakes arena for the political battle this election season.
The region which has given three India its Prime Ministers –– Indira Gandhi whose parliamentary constituency was Raebareli, VP Singh who fought from Fatehpur and Atal Bihari Vajpayee who represented Lucknow –– will be the most keenly-watched part of Uttar Pradesh. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had managed to win 15 out of 17 seats. This time the fight in the Awadh region is a multi-cornered one and it will not be a cakewalk for the saffron party either to retain all the seats.
This region has a population of about 3.22 crore and Kheri, Sitapur, Lucknow, Faizabad (now Ayodhya), Raebareli, Amethi, Barabanki, Dhaurahra, Misrikh, Sultanpur, Hardoi, Bahriach, Kaiserganj, Shravasti, Gonda, Ambedkarnagar, and Mohanlalganj are the constituencies that come under this region. Out of the 17 seats, five of them are reserved for scheduled caste.
Amethi, Lucknow to be in the limelight
VIP constituencies in the Awadh region are Lucknow which is currently held by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Raebareli which is held by Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi, Amethi represented by her son Rahul Gandhi, and Sultanpur represented by Varun Gandhi.
With BJP announcing to field union minister Smriti Irani against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, this Lok Sabha constituency is set to witness an interesting fight and will be one of the most keenly-watched constituencies as BJP is not leaving any stone unturned to defeat the Gandhi scion. The buzz is that senior Congress leader Jitin Prasad would be contesting against Rajnath Singh from Lucknow instead of his home turf Dhaurahra. Lucknow is the bastion of BJP and earlier former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee used to contest from this seat.
From SP-BSP alliance to Congress and the BJP, each political party has been paying a lot of emphasis on this region. Congress’ eastern Uttar Pradesh in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra recently paid a visit to the temple town of Ayodhya, her brother's parliamentary constituency Amethi and even her mother's turf Raebareli.
Will the gathbandhan make a difference
Samajwadi Party (SP) spokesperson Abdul Hafiz Gandhi also stresses on the importance of Awadh region in their political strategy. “The Dalits, backwards, other marginalized communities, minorities, poor, farmers, labourers and women are waiting eagerly to vote out the BJP in 2019 and the Awadh region has a mixture of all these castes because the BJP-led central and state governments have not been able to fulfil their promises,” he said.
On the SP-BSP-RLD gathbandhan (alliance), he said the historic move has changed every political arithmetic throughout UP. He is confident that the alliance is unbeatable in 60 seats while in the remaining they are going to give nightmares to the BJP. “This time we are going to win even those seats which we never won,” predicts the SP leader.
Gathbandhan's main focus areas are doubling of farmers' income, providing employment to youths, women security, quality education and healthcare facilities to the masses.
Congress leader Mukesh Singh admits that the Awadh region has become important to the party once again because it is more of a war of survival and proving what the party stands for. He said in the past political parties respected each other and did not field candidates on prestigious seats like Amethi or Lucknow.
He said the Congress has left few seats for the gathbandhan parties and in return, they have also opted to not field their candidates from Amethi and Raebareli seats. “On the other hand, the BJP is using all its force in Amethi and they are going to lose again,” Singh said adding that the Awadh region is home to farmers who have become 'Chowkidaar' in their own fields, protecting their crops from stray cattle.
Political commentator J P Shukla points out that as the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow is the power centre for not just the state government but also political parties. "Awadh region is the heart of Uttar Pradesh and this region has brought a change in national politics. The issue of disputed Ram temple comes from this region and it is very important politically. The issue has guided the politics of India for many decades. The Ram temple issue was above all other issues in the last election and it helped the BJP to make their government at the Centre," Shukla opines.
Explaining that the politics of Awadh is being followed everywhere in the country because it has a rare and mixed combination of urban and rural constituencies, the political expert says the region is an important battlefield also because a large chunk of constituencies like Amethi, Dhaurahra and many others are politically important.
Awadh battle for survival or prestige
Lucknow-based political analyst Dr Rudra Dubey says the Awadh region is a high-stakes area mainly for the Congress and the BJP because Amethi and Raebareli constituencies are a family borough of the Congress while constituencies like Lucknow has been the parliamentary constituency of late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Out of all the 17 constituencies in the region, 14 are with the BJP while Amethi and Raebareli are with the Congress and Bahraich seat was won by Savitri Bai Phule who was then in the BJP but has switched to the Congress now.
"It is not a battle of survival for political parties in Awadh region but it is a challenge for the two major parties to preserve its decades-old heritage and for this, they are going full throttle,” Dr Dubey says while underscoring the political relevance of the region in national politics.
He said the BJP has already found itself on shaky waters in constituencies like Bahraich where sitting MP Savitri Bai Phule has joined the Congress. “Phule has a good voter base in Bahraich while Congress has also felt a silent tremor with BJP fielding Smriti Irani against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi,” the political analyst said.
There is still suspense over senior Congress leader Jitin Prasad’s constituency as he wants to fight from Lucknow instead of Dharaura. “The contest in Lucknow will be against Rajnath Singh who has been a regular visitor to his constituency. The people will also vote for him in sympathy after the death of former PM Atalas Rajnath has worked to save his legacy in Lucknow," Dr Dubey says.
He further points out that in Ayodhya, the BJP has been doing a lot of groundwork ever after forming their government in the state. The success of Deepotsav and changing the name of Faizabad to Ayodhya will help the BJP from the seat, according to Dr Dubey.
“The BJP has also not taken a risk by announcing new names on seats like Unnao after finding Sakshi Maharaj as a winnable candidate. So from this one can realize the political importance of Awadh region in Indian or the politics of Uttar Pradesh."
However, he thinks that unlike other times, people in Awadh may now vote on the basis of issues like jobs, stray cattle, farm crisis, etc. “The other major challenge for political parties will be wooing different castes as this region has all the castes from Jatavs to Yadavs, Muslim and even Nishads," Dubey added.
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