Sudhir alias Pappu Yadav comes across as the sort of heartland politician you should be wary of. Yet, in his area of Soron, he's popular with everybody, including Brahmins. Brahmins and Yadavs are not known to be bedfellows. How did Pappu bridge the divide?
The Soron area was added to the Kasganj seat with the 2008 delimitation. Soron Shukar Kshetra is a famous pilgrimage place, with a lake, once part of the Ganga river, that now flows a few kilometres away. Pilgrims come here from far and wide on Amavasya nights, and to submerge the ashes of the dead. It is said the bones melt in the holy water in just three days. It was in Soron that Sant Tulsidas was born.
For five years now, Yadav's wife Archana has been the chairperson of the Soron Nagar Palika, which de facto means Pappu runs it. Most people in Soron town, across castes, say they are considering voting for Pappu, who is contesting from a Mahan Dal ticket. The reason? "He has done such development here by being chairman of the Nagar Palika that even MPs and MLAs couldn't get it done," is a refrain you hear often in Soron. He's built marriage halls, houses, roads, ensured spotlessly clean roads and the ghats at Soron Ji Ganga make you wonder if Varanasi ghats were ever this clean.
Mahan Dal is a new party that is seeking to mobilise the Shakya/Saini Maurya community with cadres, and giving tickets to candidates from upper castes. It's the BSP formula: consolidate a core vote bank and win seats with candidates from other castes.
Pappu Yadav used to be in the Samajwadi Party. He is a distant relative of the district president of the SP, Kunwar Devendra Singh Yadav. The falling out is both personal and political. Pappu Yadav is now seeking to create a political career on his own.
He won't win, but as a Yadav popular with Brahmins and even Dalits in his area, he will cut votes of all three parties, BJP, BSP and SP. Thanks to the large Brahmin population of Soron, he will damage the BJP the most.
From Kasganj town, Soron appears a world away. Pappu Yadav's sway is in Soron alone. He won't win, and the caste calculus for the BJP is so strong, the BJP is still likely to take the seat. But Pappu Yadav will earn good enough votes to be noticed by other parties in future. "One wants a stable home," he says.
The wrong candidates
All three parties, BSP, SP and BJP, have the wrong candidates in the seat. Here's how the tickets were allotted.
Kasganj district has three seats: Kasganj, Patiyali and Amanpur (pronounced Amapur). Kunwar Devendra Singh Yadav, the SP's district president, insisted that his daughter Kiran Yadav get a ticket from Patiyali. The seat's sitting MLA was a popular Muslim, whose ticket was cut. The SP and BSP try to give at least one Muslim ticket in every district. So the SP decided to give the Kasganj seat to a Muslim candidate. As a result, the ticket of Kasganj's sitting MLA, the veteran Lodh leader Manpal Singh, was cut. Manpal Singh has been assured he will be accommodated in some other way after the election. He's certainly not campaigning for the Samajwadi Party this election, enjoying the winter sun in the balcony of his home.
The chosen man was Hasratullah Sherwani, who until early December was in the Bahujan Samaj Party. Sherwani, locally known as Bhaddan Miyan, won the 2007 election from Kasganj, the only time ever the Bahujan Samaj Party won here. The split in Lodh votes had helped him win. This time, there was a dispute between him and the BSP's all powerful zonal co-ordinator on how much money he'll give to purchase the ticket from the party. BSP's local workers confirm as much. What exactly the dispute was, is not clear. Some say it was over the amount, some say it was about converting old currency notes into new.
Sherwani himself openly says he has in the past given Rs 80 lakhs to the party. A real estate businessman in Delhi NCR, he says he sold land to arrange that money. This time he couldn't meet the demand, and fortunately got a ticket from the Samajwadi Party.
Upset with demonetisation and no tickets to upper castes in the area, upper caste voters would have looked favourably at a Samajwadi Party candidate. Had it been Manpal Singh, he would have had a good shot at winning despite being 78 years old. But with Bhaddan Miyan, the Samajwadi Party's votes have been limited to Muslims and Yadavs, with Pappu Yadav taking away some Yadavs too.
Lotus in a mess
The BJP's ticket distribution mess across the state is a mystery. Devendra Singh Rajput, a Lodh, got the BJP ticket from here for one reason alone: he is close to Kalyan Singh, the Lodh veteran who is currently Rajasthan Governor.
On virtually every seat in the state, the BJP told various aspirants they were being considered for the ticket. These aspirants spent crores of rupees campaigning for the BJP in November and December. As they found themselves being denied the ticket, they got busy trying to make the BJP lose the election.
In Kasganj too, there are other Lodh politicians doing this. Upper caste voters are particularly upset that Devendra Singh Rajput has a 'criminal image' with various cases against him, including serious charges such as murder.
In the Patiyali seat, Shyam Sundar Gupta, a baniya businessman, was so sure of getting a BJP he had even prepared kits for his booth agents. He is said to have spent crores of rupees campaigning for the BJP. The seat was instead given to Mamtesh Shakya, a new entrant from the BSP. The denial of ticket to Gupta is also adding to upper caste disaffection with the BJP across Kasganj district.
Kasganj falls under the Etah Lok Sabha seat, whose current MP is Rajveer Singh, son of Kalyan Singh. Addressing a rally in Kasganj, Rajveer said he wasn't asking for votes for the candidates but for the party. The anxiety shows.
The local makes the national
As the BSP kicked Sherwani alias Bhaddan Miya out of the party, it replaced him with Ajay Chaturvedi, a rich businessman in neighbouring Etah who has contested and lost one election from there before. As polling day comes closer, upper caste voters are gravitating to Chaturvedi in large numbers.
He is a Brahmin, has a "clean image", and they want to make their displeasure to the BJP known. He will still not win because Lodhs and other non-Yadav OBCs are so large in number the BJP victory is a certainty in Kasganj. Any other result will be a surprise. But the BSP's Dalit vote-bank plus the upper caste attraction towards Chaturvedi could even make him the runner-up candidate, relegating the SP's Bhaddan Miyan to the third position.
In these ways, ticket selection, the small vote-cutting candidates, all make an MLA election a local affair. In the absence of a state-wide wave, it is the local that dominates, which doesn't figure in the broad caste and vote-share calculations people make.
And then some more
There are some more candidates, but who are they? Turns out they are "dummy" candidates, contesting as independents. They are a foil for the BJP, BSP, SP and Mahan Dal candidates. They help get more permissions for cars from the Election Commission, aid the main candidates sneakily, and put more polling agents in booths.
Preeti Mishra is not one such. She's and independent candidate who likes to contest Vidhan Sabha an Lok Sabha elections. This is her third attempt. She does it because she likes to. Until election dates were announced, she had large hoardings in Kasganj. Now her campaign is nowhere to be seen. Why does she do this? Nobody knows. "You can't stop anyone in India from doing two things," says a local journalist, "getting married and contesting elections."
This article is part of the series, #BellwetherKasganj
Also in HuffPost: