MORADABAD/AMROHA: “If Imran Pratapgarhi (the rock star poet fielded by the Congress from Moradabad) gets over one lakh votes then the BJP will win. If he gets less than that, the gathbandan will win. In neither case is the Congress party winning, “explained Parwez Akram, a staunch Congress supporter in the heart of Moradabad city.

Akram was not being blasphemous, just matter of fact. And voiced a political assessment that was echoed throughout Moradabad city where the Congress has the remnants of a vote, and that Pratapgarhi is trying to hard to build on with hectic campaigning of which his poetry and persona are the fulcrum. But those campaigning for him do not think, no matter how hard he tries, that he will win the seat as the Congress has no vote except that of the minorities he manages to wean away from the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party coalition.

The coalition is strong in the rural belt, the Congress very weak. On this day Pratapgarhi was supposedly campaigning in the villages. But here the Dalit (largely Jatav) and Muslim vote is behind the coalition. But there is increasing despair that the Congress might cut into the Muslims and allow the BJP to sail through this important constituency in west UP. What if the Congress had joined the coalition? “Oh then there is no doubt about it, we would have sailed through without a thought,” said the party’s Mayor candidate in the recent civic polls ,Haji Rizwan Qureshi.

Initially, according to the locals, Congress UP chief Raj Babbar had thrown his hat into the Moradabad ring. But after an initial assessment he left for safer pastures. In a constituency that was consolidating behind the BJP and the coalition, Babbar felt that he could not make an effective dent and moved out. The Congress brought in Pratapgarhi from Pratapgarh, who is being looked by a section of the Muslims as an ‘outsider’ while others embrace him as a ‘celebrity.’ There is a division even in the Muslim Congress vote in Moradabad town, that the party leaders here are aware of and claim they are working to erase.

To what end it is not clear. As according to the Congress leaders in Moradabad itself he is unlikely to win, and an increased vote share will only help the BJP as he is poaching directly from the SP-BSP votes.

Qureshi admitted that being an outsider is working to Pratapgarhi’s disadvantage, and that if he had been given the ticket instead he would have won by an extra 50,000 votes. Of course, being a loyal Congressman he insisted that the candidate would win the elections. But was silent when asked what other vote the poet could get beyond a tentative, ‘Dalits”...

Samajwadi Party MLA from the Moradabad Rural constituency Haji Ikram Qureshi, a dour man, was categorical that the gatbandhan was winning these elections. But he was strongly critical of the Congress for “doing little else but dividing our votes.” He said that the rural constituency was solidly behind the SP-BSP candidate in Moradabad, Dr S.T. Hasan, former Mayor and well regarded by all in the constituency. For the Congress he is “too sharif”, for the Samajwadi he is a “very decent, sharif person” and for the voters he is “so sharif that he charges only Rs 30 for patients.” In fact a group of men on the outskirts of the city turned out to be all Samajwadi voters and interestly reflected the cross section that is voting for the coalition. There was a Dalit, a Verma sahab, and two Muslims who said that their vote was with the coalition but were very critical of the “Congress kavi for harming the vote.”

In sharp contrast to the confusion visible amongst the Muslim voters in Moradabad is adjacent Amroha from where the Congress has fielded a little known Jat candidate against the gatbandhan’s Danish Ali. This has been done to accommodate Ali, a national leader of the JD-S before he joined the BSP for these elections, and with good relations with the Congress top brass. As part of its overall design to wreck the elections for the gatbandhan in western UP, the Congress had fielded a muslim candidate but replaced him with the local Jat worker to give Ali a chance.

In every village everyone was speaking of the gatbandhan. Avowed BJP supporters said that the fight was with the coalition, and admitted to the last person, that it was going to be a tough fight for their party. Danish Ali is well known here with the Muslims happy that they do not have to think twice about their ballot. And the Dalits swearing once again by Mayawati, with a group of youth saying “Behenji will be the Prime Minister.” As an old wizened Jatav in a village on the highway said, “last time we had got divided between the BJP and BSP, but this time our entire vote is for the gatbandhan.” Why were you divided? He was silent, but a younger man in the group said, “we thought Modi would be a good leader, we were mistaken.” The Muslim-Dalit consolidation behind the gatbandhan is very visible in Amroha, with the Jats though still to take a call.

Interestingly, the Rashtriya Lok Dal factor is a bit weak in this part of western UP. It got less than one per cent of the vote in the last Lok Sabha elections while the BSP and SP together secured a little over than the 48 percent of the votes that went to the BJP candidate in this constituency. The BJP fever is down, and the coalition is doing far better than expected. Jats in a remote village Murha admitted as much, although they said that they would continue to vote for the BJP. But the strength of the coalition is evident all across the constituency with the votes coming together behind it in a manner that has the BJP workers and supporters talking of it as a major threat.

An effective Congress candidate from Amroha would have moved the advantage to the BJP, as it has in Moradabad. Unless, as the locals said, in the last hours the Muslim voters realise this and consolidate behind the gatbandhan that many here felt was still very much possible. The Congress, from reports reaching here, might have queered the pitch for the coalition in several seats in western UP, the list including key constituencies like Saharanpur and Bijnore where it has fielded Muslim candidates. But as in Moradabad the Congress does not have a visible second vote, and unlike in Delhi where the intelligentsia seems to be blaming Mayawati for the non-alliance, all over western UP even the Congress supporters are critical of their own party on this front. “We should have had an alliance” is the refrain, with Parwez Akram merely echoing what many in his own party are saying.

Samajwadi’s Qureshi was clear, “the Congress is here to help the BJP, we can all see that.”