Bigger picture: UP poll runner-up SP outran winner BJP in Purvanchal e-way belt race

In the state Assembly elections four months later, the BJP won the polls comfortably, winning seats across the state. The SP remained a distant runner-up, but it won a majority of seats in the districts that the eastern UP expressway traverses.

The 341-km-long Purvanchal Expressway runs through nine districts in UP, starting from Lucknow and traversing Barabanki, Amethi, Ayodhya, Sultanpur, Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh and Mau before terminating in Ghazipur.

These districts comprise of 54 Assembly constituencies, which account for nearly 13 per cent of the state’s total 403 Assembly seats.

Of these 54 seats, the BJP scalped 19 in the 2022 polls, while the SP-led alliance won 35 seats, including the SP’s 32 and its ally Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP)’s 3. The BSP drew a blank.

In sharp contrast, in the 2017 polls it was the BJP-led alliance that had bagged 35 seats in these nine districts, with the BJP winning 33 and its then ally SBSP securing 2. The SP had then managed to get only 11 seats, while the BSP had won 8.

In the 2012 Assembly elections, when the SP had stormed to power with an absolute majority, the party had won 46 of these 54 seats, with the BJP getting just 2.

In the 2022 elections, the BJP suffered its biggest setback in the eastern expressway districts of Ghazipur, Ambedkar Nagar and Azamgarh, which together account for 22 seats, as it failed to win any seat in the three districts.

The SP swept all the seats in Azamgarh (10 seats) and Ambedkar Nagar (5 seats), and won 5 out of Ghazipur’s 7 seats with the SBSP picking the remaining 2. In the 2017 polls, the BJP had won 6 seats and its then ally SBSP had won 2 in these districts.

Even in Ayodhya district, which the BJP had swept in 2017 by garnering all its 5 seats, the saffron party won 3 this time with the remaining 2 seats going to the SP.

“As OBC leader like Om Prakash Rajbhar (SBSP chief) forged an alliance with SP and former BSP veterans like Ram Achal Rajbhar and Lalji Verma contested on the SP tickets, that helped the SP in getting votes of non-Yadav OBCs in the districts of Ambedkar Nagar and Ghazipur. Also, Muslims who had voted for BSP in 2017, supported SP in 2022 in districts like Azamgarh, Ambedkar Nagar and Ghazipur, where Muslims, Yadavs and Rajbhar OBCs have significant numbers,” a BJP leader said.

The battle for votes in the Purvanchal (eastern UP) region intensified after the expressway’s inauguration by PM Modi in a grand event on November 16. On the occasion, an airshow was performed by fighter jets including Sukhoi-30 and Mirage-2000, for which a 3.2-km landing strip was marked on the expressway.

SP president Akhilesh Yadav had then accused the BJP governments at the Centre and in UP of “appropriating” his government’s project.

Akhilesh had also tweeted a photograph of the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the same project done during the tenure of his government. A day later, he had taken out the “Samajwadi Vijay Yatra” from Ghazipur to Lucknow along the Purvanchal Expressway.

The inauguration site falls in Sadar seat of Sultanpur district, where the BJP won 4 seats including Sadar in the 2022 polls, with the SP winning the district’s remaining seat, Isauli. This outcome mirrored the tallies of the two parties in the district in the 2017 polls.

“Only expressways and buildings do not mean development,” BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said. “These infrastructure projects are necessary. But development means the all-round growth in villages and changes in the life of the poor. BJP has done that development,” he claimed.

“It should be noted that SP had suffered loss in 2017 elections along Lucknow-Agra Expressway built by its previous government,” he added.

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