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Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav’s Allahabad Rally: Signs of Change or Routine Campaign Exuberance?

Allahabad has been in the news for the campaign rally Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav held here, where youngsters showed no signs of being subdued by the searing heat.
Photo: X/@INCIndia.

Allahabad, Phulpur: As the election shifts to the next and penultimate phase, Allahabad is the centre of attention in India’s largest state with 80 seats. Top political leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Akhilesh Yadav, Amit Shah and Adityanath have all visited the region within hours of each other.

Why so much attention on Allahabad?

UP holds the key to Delhi and Allahabad plays a critical role in shaping UP. Historically speaking, Allahabad has been the home for seven Indian prime ministers, and the only non-Maharashtrian, non-Brahmin head the RSS can claim to have had.

Allahabad has been important for all parties that wish to consolidate themselves in the heartland. It is not a coincidence that Allahabad is where the sangam – the meeting point of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna – is located. It has spiritual significance as well as metaphorical significance as a centre of the Ganga-Jamuni sankskriti (India’s heritage of confluence, like in the rivers merging here).

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The name changing from Allahabad to Prayagraj was also important for the BJP, to give it a certain twist and identity. Senior political leader and two-term MP from here, Revati Raman Singh, has recently repeated the old political adage to journalists: “Jab Allahabad mein badlav karta hai, to Dilli mein badlav aata hai.”

Rally wars

As the region was swamped with VVIPs, Allahabad witnessed a mini-war of rallies. It began with shortage of buses, police forces and finally, of people.

Many people who attended the rallies said there was a tough prestige battle between parties to maximise crowds for their own rallies.

But as luck would have it, Amit Shah’s rally attracted the least amount of people, followed by Adityanath’s. These rallies were held in support of BJP candidates in Allahabad (Neeraj Tripathi), Praveen Singh Patel in Phulpur and Bholanath Saroj in Machhlishahr.

Machhlishahr is important for another reason. The BJP managed to win the seat in 2019, but with less than 200 votes. It holds the record amongst all 543 seats in the Lok Sabha for the smallest margin of victory.

The low attendance in Amit Shah’s rally has given rise to chatter that this could be like the Bihar assembly election in 2015, when a large section felt that Gujarati leaders were capturing local ground – in this case, of course, the political landscape being of Uttar Pradesh.

That Gujarati businessmen are favoured and are “taking over UP” has been talked about in the streets hurt an otherwise formidable BJP voter base.

Amit Shah’s rally in Allahabad. Photo: Screenshot from YouTube/Bharatiya Janata Party.

Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav rally buzz

But what has made big news is the INDIA rally with Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, which was the biggest crowd puller this week in Phulpur. The huge crowds of youngster-attendees breaking barriers and going all the way close to the stage raised concerns of the UP police not having deputed enough personnel.

Due to many VVIPs reaching the city, the police administration has been saying it was short-staffed and could not devote adequate personnel to be deployed at the INDIA alliance rally.

The INDIA alliance organisers found that they did not have enough transport to help their supporters to the rally, as most buses in the region were booked by the “transport department” for the other rallies. Yet, people managed to throng the venue and the surging crowd made waves there.

Photo: X/@INCIndia.

Ujjwal Raman Singh, the Congress-SP candidate, told The Wire: “There about ten policemen there to control the crowds. Naturally when two big leaders are coming, the crowd will be charged up. Akhilesh ji has a massive appeal in the region due to all his constructive work for UP and people love [him]. Once the people saw the gap in security, they jumped up and rushed to meet the leaders,” he said.

The BJP, while rattled by the crowd, tried to make light of the buzz that the crowds created. BJP spokesman Anand Dubey told BBC Hindi: “The biggest thing is that Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi were sent back without achieving anything in Phulpur and Prayagraj. The crowds didn’t hear them. In the 2022 assembly polls too, Akhilesh Yadav had caused a traffic jam on the Purvanchal Expressway with similar crowds.”

On the issue of low security, Ujjwal said: “Naturally, the party in power will get preference, but due to the huge crowds, the management was simply overwhelmed and even the sound system was disturbed. The mic systems stopped working, and then the speeches were naturally stopped. But although no speeches were given, people were highly energised and pledged to for a change.”

Ujjwal happens to be the son of Rewati Raman Singh; he has held various positions across the years representing the region in the state and in Delhi.

“This election is a big fight between the people and this current administration. They have been longing for this change for a while. And remember like I have said before, Dilli ki gaddi [power in Delhi] will change once Allahabad changes. And Allahabad is changing,” he said.

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