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Ghaziabad: A battle to watch out for as former army boss takes on SP-BSP

By Anuj Cariappa

New Delhi, Apr 09: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on issues of development and national security as it takes on the infallible Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) combine in Ghaziabad, where a resurgent Congress in urban areas has made it a keen contest.

Ghaziabad: A battle to watch out for as former army boss takes on SP-BSP

Spread over Loni, Muradnagar, Sahibabad, Ghaziabad and Dhaulana assembly segments, the constituency has 27 lakh voters, up from the 23 lakh in 2014 when the BJP's V K Singh rode high on the "Modi wave" and won with a thumping majority.

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The former Army chief, who was labelled as an "outsider" because of his Haryana origin and still fighting that tag, had raked in 7.58 lakh votes, 56 per cent of the total votes polled. He alone had pulled nearly two lakh more votes than the 14 other candidates and NOTA combined.

Among the 12 candidates in the fray are the Singh (67), Congress' Dolly Sharma (33), an MBA with political lineage, and the SP's Suresh Bansal (70), a former MLA backed by the BSP, RLD and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanth have been here multiple times in recent months.

"Development, nationalism and national security are our key poll planks this time," Prithvi Singh, a six-time BJP state executive member, told .

The BJP is counting on the extension of metro rail line, the work on NH-24 and opening a domestic terminal at the Hindon airport.

Singh, the minister of state for external affairs, reiterated bringing in projects worth Rs 32,000 crore, including a regional rail transport system (RRTS) that would connect Delhi and Meerut via Ghaziabad.

Ghaziabad also moved from 351st rank in cleanliness index in 2017 to 13th in 2018.

"Some works have been done and some others remain in pipeline. If we do not get another chance, those works may not get completed," he added.

The SP claims that nothing more has come to Ghaziabad since the Akhilesh Yadav government was succeeded by the BJP.

"People are angry over the local issues. In fact, the BJP workers have admitted, but hesitantly, that they cannot get work done. The MP should be local and available to the people. The traders and businessmen are unhappy about GST and demonetisation," said Sanjay Yadav, former Ghaziabad president of the SP.

The Congress claims that the BJP had given nothing to Ghaziabad.

"People are paying tax and they deserve better facilities. Basic infrastructure and traffic problems are an issue. The MP has done nothing on these fronts," Congress spokesperson Rajiv Tyagi said. He points out that his party has a plan for industrial panning and hassle-free traffic in Ghaziabad.

"When the BJP can waive loans of farmers, why cannot they do it for the poor, the farmers? Our state governments have proved this can be done," Tyagi said.

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Lawyer-activist Neeraj Saxena, 56, claimed that the constituency was suffering from rampant illegal construction, encroachment, poor healthcare and transport system.

"We are taxpayers. We deserve basic amenities and it is the responsibility of elected representatives to deliver that," said Saxena, a Ghaziabad resident since birth.

Political observers believe civic issues might influence voting among the mixed, urban crowd of Sahibabad (9.48 lakh) and Ghaziabad (4.48 lakh), while caste factor may play an important role in Loni (4.91 lakh), Muradnagar (4.43 lakh) and Dhaulana (3.94 lakh) segments.

Considered a BJP stronghold with a combined Brahmin-Vaishya voters, a traditional supporter of the party in the region, of around 10 lakh, the constituency is also home to six lakh Scheduled Castes, 5.5 lakh Muslims, 1.5 lakh Jats, around 50,000 Yadavs, among others in the electorate, according to poll observers.

"We are likely to win again but our victory margin may go down. The alliance (SP-BSP-RLD) is going to make some impact. Yadavs and Muslims won't support us. It's the Jat votes that will get divided," a senior local BJP leader told requesting anonymity.

Congress' Tyagi claimed that his party's vote bank is intact and the Congress candidate has appeal in urban areas, even as the BJP's Singh said the "infighting" in the Congress will spell doom for it despite "no question mark on Dolly Sharma as an individual".

The SP's Yadav said even if the alliance candidate Bansal gets the vote share on the same trend as in 2014, the SP-BSP-RLD could breach this BJP seat.

Notably, the SP had initially planned to field Surendra Kumar Munni, its current district-unit president and a Brahmin face, but was replaced by Bansal, a Vaishya, after the Congress nominated Sharma, to ward off split in Brahmin votes.

"Honestly, this time there is not even the so-called Modi wave, so we are hopeful. Once we win, this Brahmin-Bania tag from Ghaziabad will also get removed. It's only because of the BJP," he said.

The AAP, which had last time got around 89,000 votes with Shazia Ilmi (who joined the BJP post 2014 polls) as its face, has stepped up campaign for consolidating anti-BJP votes.

"AAP has some influence in urban areas like Vaishali, Kaushambi and Indirapuram, so it may do something little but even that would matter if the fight gets close," he added.

Of the total voters in Ghaziabad, which goes to polls on Thursday during the first leg of the seven-phase election, 15.17 lakh are male, 12.08 lakh female and 109 third gender.

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