The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh faces its biggest challenge in the Terai region in the Assembly elections, due to a combination of factors.
The biggest troubled spot in this region is Lakhimpur Kheri ,which goes to polls in the fourth phase on February 23.
Lakhimpur Kheri is now best known for the October 3 incident in which four farmers and a journalist were mowed down by a SUV, allegedly owned by Union minister Ajay Misra Teni’s son, Ashish Misra, following a farmers’ protest.
Three BJP workers were killed in retaliatory violence.
Ashish Misra is in jail and Ajay Misra Teni remains comfortable in his ministerial position though he has been asked to remain away from the public eye. The SIT that probed the incident has said that it was ‘pre-planned’.
A strong sense of unease is palpable among the voters and local BJP leaders are acutely aware of the ground situation.
Surjeet Singh, a young farmer from Palia, says, “The wounds are still raw and the ruling party has not fulfilled its promises that included dismissal of Ajay Misra Teni. Farmers are not being aggressive, but there is a strong wave of resentment among them.”
The party suffered another jolt when its sitting MLA from Dhaurhara, Bala Prasad Awasthi, joined the Samajwadi Party.
In Nighasan, where the October 3 incident took place, the BJP has replaced sitting MLA Ram Kumar Patel with Shashank Verma.
In the neighbouring Pilibhit, the situation is no better. The local BJP MP, Varun Gandhi, has been rather vocal in criticising his own party over the farmers’ issues.
Gandhi enjoys considerable support from the Sikh community — his mother Maneka Gandhi is a Sikh — and his posture during the farmers’ agitation as well as the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in which he demanded the minister’s arrest, has added to the BJP’s troubles here.
The BJP has retaliated by dropping Varun Gandhi and Maneka Gandhi from the national executive and now the list of star campaigners.
Sensing trouble, the BJP has also changed two of its four candidates.
Kishan Rajput has been replaced by Swami Pravaktanand in Barkheda while in Bisalpur, Vivek Verma has replaced Agyash Verma.
The party has, however, retained Sanjay Gangwar from Pilibhit Sadar and Baburam Paswan from Puranpur Assembly seats.
Top BJP leaders have not yet started campaigning in the region and party sources were evasive about their programme.