By Kishor Dwivedi
Noida (UP), Apr 7 (PTI) BJP heavyweight Mahesh Sharma has returned with accounts of his development work, Congress is hoping a young Arvind Kumar Singh would regain a seat it lost in the 1980s and BSP's Satveer Nagar, a rural favourite, could pull off a victory as a coalition face in Gautam Buddh Nagar.
The district is known for its high-rise apartments, expressways, plush corporate offices and the metro rail in Noida and Greater Noida, while issues related to land acquisition of farmers, high fees in private schools, unemployment, flat buyers, and road traffic plague the constituency with a large rural population spread in 1,186 villages.
It is widely but inaccurately identified only as Noida, a high-tech satellite city of Delhi with smooth roads that lead one to interiors of the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh.
The Lok Sabha seat is spread across Noida, Dadri, Jewar, Khurja and Sikandrabad assembly segments, with the last two technically falling in Bulandshahr district.
Of the 22.97 lakh voters, 6.68 lakh are in the mixed-crowd, urban Noida, and the rest in the remaining four rural segments, where caste factor and central leadership of political parties are a major talking point.
BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have addressed events in the run up to the poll, with "terrorism", "Pakistan" and "Modi factor" being their focal points.
"I have brought projects worth Rs 50,000 crore including an international airport in Jewar, a power plant in Khurja, a metro rail connecting Noida and Greater Noida since 2014," Sharma told PTI, noting "a lot more remains to be done".
BSP's Nagar is seen as the most likely threat to Sharma, who polled 5.99 lakh votes in 2014, because of his party's alliance with Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal — which may give him an edge due to caste equations — and Aam Aadmi Party also supporting him.
"Nagar is fighting to get the farmers' issues resolved, get them their compensation due and get the local youth into jobs. Other poll agendas include fees in private schools, getting government higher education institutes, healthcare," the party's media incharge Raghvendra Dubey said.
Congress's Singh, whose father is a BJP leader from Aligarh, is fighting the "outsider" label, which he says was being played up by Sharma's party, and has identified job creation, farm distress, women safety, a ceiling on fees of private schools as his focus areas.
“We have a 17-point agenda for Gautam Buddh Nagar. I have an action plan to remove the problems like those of buyers and builders," Singh has said, claiming Sharma's tenure has been "full of flaws" as he could not get the district a new government hospital despite being a doctor himself.
Around 3.11 lakh new voters have joined the electorate since the 2014 polls, with the district administration saying most of them are flat buyers and migrant workers.
“Traffic is a major issue in the city and nothing much has happened since 2014 for it. Elevated roads and underpasses have come up but bottlenecks still remain, only their locations have changed,” said Amit Gupta, a software engineer.
They also rue abolition of village panchayat and municipal corporation system, claiming this has hampered transparency and growth in Noida and Gr Noida, where local industrial development authorities take decisions even on civic matters.
“If this could be resolved, a lot of serious problems including those relating to land deals will be solved,” said Ranjan Tomar, lawyer and president of the Noida Village Residents' Association.
UP Udyog Vyapar Mandal's district president Sushil Kumar Jain said an MP or an MLA does not have much a role to play in Noida, which is among top revenue earning cities for the state government, and local authorities should be held accountable.
“The BJP government has brought some good policies but hasn't raised proper awareness about their details,” Jain said, adding “earlier the trader community was a fixed supporter of the BJP, but now BJP is the only choice.”
Political observers in the rural areas believe that as the election date is nearing the caste factor is gaining more importance than any other discussion.
There are around 4 lakh Thakur votes, and between 3 to 4 lakh votes each in Brahmin, Gujjar, Muslima and Dalits communities, while others including the Jats in the rest. A major chunk of Thakur votes is spread in the Jewar, Sikandrabad and Khurja triangle, which has also been the spot for several BJP events recently.
“But Congress's Arvind Kumar Singh is also a Thakur and if he cuts into the BJP's Thakur votes, this may give BSP's Satveer Nagar an edge over Mahesh Sharma. Nagar already has a clear support of BSP, SP, RLD votebanks, that is the Gujjars, the Jats and all anti-BJP votes,” said Dharampal Singh Nagar, a Dadri resident and retired government school teacher.
He added that having four of the five MLAs, three of them Thakurs, has certainly given some ground support to the BJP.
Asked about caste factor, Congress's Singh earlier told PTI: "You cannot rule it out, but you also don't know what may happen. This time, it's a very complicated election, very complicated."
In 2014, Sharma had raked in 50 per cent of the total votes polled to defeat SP's Narendra Bhati by 2.80 lakh votes while BSP's Satish Kumar got 1.98 lakh votes.
Congress's Ramesh Chand Tomar had got only 12,727 votes as 20 other candidates forfeited deposits and 3,836 votes went for NOTA (None of the Above).
Nomination of AAP's Shweta Sharma was rejected, leaving 12 candidates including two independents in the fray in 2019, down from 24 in 2014. PTI KIS ABH