There's something special about seat number 100 in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly. For 43 years, in each of the 11 assembly elections since 1974, this seat has voted for the party which has also won Uttar Pradesh. None of the other 402 seats in the assembly gets it right like Kasganj, making it a bellwether seat to watch.
Through the rise and fall of Indira Gandhi, the Emergency and the coalition era, the waves of Mandal and Mandir, and then again to stable BSP-SP governments since 2007, the Kasganj MLA has always found himself on the winning side.
In 1974, Manpal Singh won Kasganj on an Indian National Congress ticket. After the Emergency, the Janata Party swept the state and the country alike. That year, Netram Singh became the Janata Party's MLA from Kasganj. In 1980, the Congress was back in power, as was Manpal Singh in Kasganj. He won another election in 1985, as did the Congress in Uttar Pradesh.
In 1989, Mulayam Singh Yadav became chief minister of the state, from the Janata Party. In Kasganj, the winning MLA, Goverdhan Singh, belonged to the Janata Party.
In 1991, the BJP made history by winning a clear majority in the state. Kalyan Singh became chief minister, and sure enough, Netram Singh was back as the Kasganj MLA from the BJP.
All these Singhs are Lodhs. In this Lodh-dominated area, community stalwart Kalyan Singh himself contested and won in 1993. Although the result was a hung assembly, Kalyan Singh's BJP was the single largest party. It's another matter that an SP-BSP alliance government was formed.
Netram Singh was back in 1996. Again, it was a hung assembly with the BJP as the single largest party.
In 2002, the Samajwadi Party replaced the BJP as the single largest party, and Manpal Singh was back. "It was only when the Congress completely died out in the 90's that I left it," says Manpal Singh, now 78.
In 2007, Hasrat Ullah Sherwani of the Bahujan Samaj Party became the first Muslim MLA of Kasganj, and its first non-Lodh MLA in a long time. This became possible because Kalyan Singh, unhappy with the BJP's ticket distribution under Rajnath Singh's leadership, left the party and had formed his own outfit. As the Lodh vote was divided between Kalyan Singh's candidate and that of the BJP, the BSP won here for the first time. It was also an election that brought an end to the coalition era, giving the BSP a clear majority.
In 2012, it was the turn of the Muslim vote to be divided to help a Lodh candidate, Manpal Singh of the Samajwadi Party, to win. The SP also won a clear majority in the state and Akhilesh Yadav became chief minister.
Before 1974, Kasganj used to alternate between the Congress and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a precursor of the BJP. As the Congress gave tickets to upper castes, the Jana Sangh saw a Lodh candidate do well on his own, and found an opening with the Lodh community.
What makes Kasganj a bellwether constituency?
There is nothing scientific about the bellwether phenomenon and Kasganj could well get it right this time. Yet, a coincidence lasting 11 election cycles must be taken seriously.
Perhaps it is the constituency's social composition and geographic location that make it a bellwether. Upper castes, Muslims, Dalits, Yadavs and other OBCs are all found in this seat. While Lodhs are the largest community by numbers, that is representative of how non-Yadav OBCs are the largest caste block, even if a fragmented one, across the state.
Geographically, Kasganj lies in a corner of west UP, on the edge of the Braj region, just before Awadh. The Ganga separates it from Badaun district. Kasganj is neither part of the potato belt of the Yadavs, nor the Jat stronghold of the RLD. It has had tense Hindu-Muslim relations but not riots. Its small town is a colonial relic that has barely expanded since. Once an important railway station, it has fallen off the radar.
Kasganj used to be part of Etah district but in 2007 Mayawati accepted a popular local demand to make it its own district, but for a price. She called it Kanshiram Nagar, after her mentor and the BSP founder. When Akhilesh came to power, he renamed it as Kasganj. The benefits of a new district have flowed, but like much of UP, the urban centre is bursting at the seams.
So who's winning this bellwether seat this time? Who are the candidates? What are the local caste equations? What are the issues? What's moving its voters? We'll discover this one seat over all of this week, until Kasganj votes on 11 February. Watch this space.
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