The legacy of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna contextualises the discourse of Rita Bahuguna Joshi and the shadow of Murli Manohar Joshi looms uneasily over the electoral politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Allahabad, that votes on May 12. Rita Joshi is the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from this prestigious constituency that had elected her father, Hemwati Nandan in 1971 while Joshi represented it without a break from 1996 to 2004.
Bahuguna senior’s relationship with his parent party, the Congress, might have been fitful but he morphed into a leader in his own right through the years when he was the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and a central minister. It’s his bequest to Allahabad and not too much the five year rule of Narendra Modi at the Centre or the two year regime of Chief Minister Adityanath that themed Rita Joshi’s chalk talk. Dr Vinay Dwivedi, her political aide, said, “Bahuguna was a self-motivated leader like Rita ji. He changed the face of this city in several ways.” Rita is currently a legislator from Lucknow Cantonment and a minister in Adityanath’s council but her link with Allahabad goes back to her days as a student of history at the eponymous university and later as a mayor from the Samajwadi Party (SP). Indeed, the better part of her political career has been outside the BJP, briefly in the SP and for long in the Congress, inducing a degree of envy in the BJP’s old-timers at her rise in less than three years.
Bahuguna senior set up the Naini Industrial Estate that opened up the employment sector in a job-arid zone in the ‘60s although a skeleton of its original form remains. He brought irrigation to the trans-Yamuna region through canals with lift pumps. As a Congress campaigner in the past, Rita’s speech always began with the line, “Yeh Bahuguna ji ki dharti hai” (this is Bahuguna’s land) but in the BJP, her colleagues do the legacy messaging. Asked who dominated Allahabad’s political landscape, Bahuguna or Modi, a BJP leader’s answer was, “Rita is where she is because of Bahuguna and we are where we are because of Modi.”
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However, local BJP leaders believe there were other reasons too why Rita was projected significantly. “Somebody has to fill the vacuum in UP’s Brahmin leadership that arose after Dr Joshi and Kalraj Mishra stepped back. Rita is incorruptible and articulate and may be she’s being groomed for a larger role in the Centre,” said one of them.
In the BJP here, nobody spoke of Joshi, except in whispers because by now, everyone was aware that he was not the ruling dispensation’s favourite. He was dropped with LK Advani and Mishra from the list of candidates and was informed thereafter. The episode resonated in the Brahmin-dominated areas of eastern UP. At a Brahmin hamlet in Fatehullapur village in Ghazipur Lok Sabha seat, Praveen Tiwari and his brother, Santosh, both transporters, wondered why the Brahmin seniors of UP were given a “raw deal” by the BJP. “We were a little happy when the Centre announced a 10 percent reservation for the economically weaker sections. But then, we realised that it was a cynical response to try and challenge a perception that the BJP had pandered excessively to the backward castes and Dalits. Then, see how they booted out respected seniors like Joshi and Mishra just because they were over 75. They don’t understand that in UP, we worship our elders and don’t throw them out. BJP has only one Brahmin left, Mahendra Pandey (the UP president who’s contesting from Chandauli). If he loses the election, be sure he will be dumped,” said Praveen, adding, “That’s why we are not over enthusiastic about the BJP this time.”
Indeed, the Tiwaris, like some other Brahmins in Ghazipur, said if they did go out to vote, it would be for Afzal Ansari, the nominee of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coalition or ‘gathbandhan’ and not Manoj Sinha of the BJP. Sinha is from the Bhumihar caste that exists in a minority in parts of eastern UP but is a classic illustration of sociologist and social anthropologist MN Srinivas’s delineation of a “dominant” caste. “Brahmins, Yadavs, Dalits, Lohars, all the castes here were harassed by the Bhumihars after Sinha’s election (in 2014). Ansari offered us some sort of protection so we will vote for him. He behaved sensibly when he filed his nomination. He didn’t mobilise a crowd because the BJP might have used it as a reason to polarise us on Hindu-Muslim lines,” said Praveen.
If the Joshi episode echoed loud and strong 200 km to Allahabad’s east, could the epicentre remain untouched? A retired bureaucrat elaborated on the matter. “Bahuguna exists in the past and contemporary voters can’t relate to him. In this city, everyone remembers Joshi for the Yamuna bridge, for mooting the proposal to give Allahabad University the status of a central university (that fructified in 2005 through an Act of Parliament) and his enunciation of Triple IT intended to make India an IT superpower. This is a city of thinkers and he struck a deep chord with it,” he said. He didn’t mention what propelled Joshi himself to ditch Allahabad in 2009 and move to Varanasi that he forfeited for Narendra Modi in 2014. The former alumnus and Physics professor still holds a place in the city’s heart and mind.