February 10, 2017 1:26:02 am
It was from this constituency that Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav had taken out their first roadshow after announcing the alliance between their parties. Today, Lucknow Central has a Congress candidate as well as one of the Samajwadi Party, each campaigning against the other, like their counterparts in at least 13 other seats of Uttar Pradesh.
The SP’s sitting MLA, minister Ravidas Mehrotra, finds himself facing off with Congress first-timer Maroof Khan, both contesting on their respective party symbols. When voters ask them the inevitable question, each one calls himself the “true candidate of the alliance”.
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The Indian Express travels a day each with the two candidates as they go about their separate campaigns:
Ravidas Mehrotra, SP
With speakers playing music and announcing the SP government’s schemes, Mehrotra enters Agah Meer Dyori area of the old city. Standing at a tea stall, Mithlesh Mishra greets the MLA with a question. “Vidhayak ji,” he says, “we were discussing just now that your chief minister says the hand and the cycle are together. But here the two are fighting. Janata confused hai, kya aapke saath haath hai?”
Initially, Mehrotra tries to explain that he is the candidate of the alliance. But when he gets to know Mithlesh is not a voter of his constituency, Mehrotra gets visibly annoyed. Youngsters accompanying him call Mithlesh “bevkoof” and “BJP ka agent”. Mithlesh’s friend Vibhor Rastogi, who does have his vote in this constituency, intervenes. He too was discussing this very contradiction, he tells the SP team. Ultimately, however, the two have to apologise to the minister for having asked such a question.
Inside the market, Radhey Shyam, who runs a garments shop, brings up the same puzzle but in a tone that does not cause offence: “Samjhauta hua hai, ek ko khara karo, ek ko baidhao.” With his suggestion comes a request to widen the road. This time Ravidas answers simply: “Cycle ke alawa kuch nahi.”
To The Indian Express, Mehrotra explains, “Akhilesh and Rahul held a joint roadshow in my favour but then suddenly the Congress fielded a candidate who did not even figure in their official list.” Because he holds the Congress responsible for his awkward situation, the party does not figure in his campaign.
Are Congress campaigners with them? One worker tries to show a photograph of a Congress leader in his election office but Mehrotra ticks him off: “It is not necessary.”
“Cycle hi hai,” he says repeatedly as his cars move from one Muslim-dominated area to another. In Konda Tikaitganj area near Nadan Mahal Road, Muslims pledge their support. A little way ahead, however, garments seller A R Khan muses, “If the two of them continue to campaign this way, this seat will certainly go to the BJP.”
The BJP candidate is Brijesh Pathak, former BSP minister. The BJP used to win here successively since 1989, until Mehrotra wrested the seat last time. Now even the Congress candidate is banking on anti-incumbency against the alliance partner’s MLA.
Maroof Khan, Congress
A photograph of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka adorns the temporary gate outside Maroof Khan’s election office, situated in front of the historic Baradari. Inside is a banner that includes images of Akhilesh and Dimple Yadav alongside those of Rahul and Priyanka. It is partly obscured by motorcycles and cycles parked there. Teams of women workers, some of them in burqas, are being guided how to answer questions on the alliance.
Maroof begins his campaign from Nayagaon, telling people he is the actual candidate of the alliance. Rayeesa, a vegetable vendor, couldn’t care less. She has longer been voting for the “cycle” but now will vote for anyone who can assure her of her “widow pension” on time. Maroof gives her that promise. For five years, he adds, the public kept asking where Mehrota is; now, he is here and will stay behind them.
In Machali Mohal, Sayeed Ahmad, a halwai, blames Mulayam Singh Yadav for allegedly pressuring Akhilesh to field candidates in some seats. “Yeh sahi nahi hai. Aise hi raha to humara vote kaam nahi ayega,” says Rehan, 42. They suggest that Maroof ask the senior leadership that there should be only one candidate. “Main hi hun,” he assures them.
He claims he has the support of SP workers. But where are they? “Yahin to they,” one of the Congress workers claims, wondering where they might have gone off.
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