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Sonauli/Nautanwa, Feb 28
Sonauli in the Maharajganj district, which votes on March 3 in Phase-6, is the last township on the Indo-Nepal border. Tourists from India can enter Nepal with vehicles bearing Indian number plates and so can cargo trucks carrying essential items. The popular transit point, incidentally, is known for both legal as well as illegal crossings and trade.
One can cross the border on foot, have a cup of tea in Nepal and return to India in 15 minutes.
Lakshmi, who sells tea on the Nepalese side, charges Rs 25 (Rs 40 in the Nepalese currency) for two cups. She has heard about “Yogiji and Modiji” and the Assembly elections happening just a few metres on the other side.
BJP working for all communities: Amit Shah
The SP and BSP divided people on caste lines when they were in power in Uttar Pradesh. On the contrary, the BJP government has been working for all communities since 2017. — Amit Shah, Union Home Minister
For shopkeepers on the Indian side, the business mostly comes from residents of nearby townships of Nepal, for instance Siddharthanagar (also called Bhairahawa) in the Lumbini province.
Businesses in Sonauli are owned by people from all communities, including Muslims and Sikhs. Running a garment shop, a Sikh trader says rising fuel prices, tax structures and Covid have affected his sales.
“Earlier, I used to earn more. Now, I just make about Rs 40 per piece. Even though transportation cost has increased, the paying capacity of people has decreased,” he says.
As for the elections, he would rather discuss the prospects of the AAP in Punjab rather than comment on elections in Uttar Pradesh.
His brother, who runs an automobile spare parts shop, says: “Voters are silent and confused. The situation is no different from that in 2007 when the BSP had sprung a surprise, in 2012 when the SP had emerged victorious and in 2017 when the BJP had bagged majority.”
There is another reason voters, other than the dedicated cadre and supporters, prefer to play it safe in the hinterlands of Purvanchal where the will of mafia dons or “bahubalis” still prevails.
Earlier, in places such as Nautanwa, “smuggling/illegal trade” or plain survival required protection from strongmen of the region, some of them enjoying the “Robin Hood” image. Their influence might have reduced over time, but ordinary voters prefer to play their cards close to their chest if a “bahubali” leader is contesting.
Nautanwa legislator Aman Mani Tripathi is one such nominee.
In 2017, he won as an Independent while in jail. At present, he is out on bail in connection with the murder of his wife.
Grapevine has it that he was trying for a ticket from the Nishad Party, but the BJP put its foot down.
The discourse on the need to end criminalisation in politics notwithstanding, most “bahubali” contestants in Purvanchal appear to be doing well.
Of the 676 candidates in the fray, 182 (27 per cent) face criminal cases and 151 (23 per cent) face serious criminal cases.