From Bareilly to Pilibhit, BJP finds Gangwars vs its Gangwars

National

When former BJP minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar lost the 2009 Lok Sabha election to Pravin Singh Aron of the Congress in this saffron bastion, the shock was promptly attributed to Varun Gandhi's pre-poll hate speech in neighbouring Pilibhit and the way it polarised the Muslim vote.

Soft-spoken, affable and proven as unbeatable since 1991, Santosh Gangwar was after all among the tallest leaders among the Gangwars, members of a 4-lakh-strong farming community of Kurmis that holds influence between Bareilly and Pilibhit. Muslims come second with a population of about 3.5 lakh. Gangwar, who trounced Aron by 78,000 votes in 2004, lost by just 9,338 in 2009.

Two years on, the BJP seems to have realised that the reasons may be more complex than that one convenient explanation.

"The Kurmis and Lodh Kisans, traditionally BJP voters here, have got divided with every party wooing the community, which is why it is becoming increasingly difficult for the BJP to win," concedes Puranlal Gangwar, a district BJP leader in Nawabganj, an Assembly constituency with one of the highest concentrations of Gangwars.

Indeed, all four major parties have fielded Gangwars, three of them related. The Samajwadi Party has fielded sitting MLA Bhagwat Sharan Gangwar, the BJP Nurottam Das Gangwar alias Munna, the Congress Bhojendra Gangwar and the BSP Usha Singh Gangwar. The BSP candidate is the wife of MLA Keshav Singh Gangwar, who lost last time.

The Congress had initially chosen another candidate but then changed its mind. Its candidate is the grandson of Chetram Gangwar, a former minister who at one time wielded tremendous influence here.

The constituency has over a lakh Gangwars, 60,000 Muslims and 25,000 Dalits. The loose strategy of each non-BJP party is to divide the Gangwars; the BJP loses not only its primary vote-base but also the support of the Lodh Kisans, who along with Gangwars form its base among the backwards.

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