Lucknow, Feb 17: It is the most high-profile contest of the entire Uttar Pradesh Assembly election 2017. Two women candidates from prominent political families fight for a coveted seat—Lucknow Cantt. One is a seasoned politician; the other is a young and energetic politician. Both the sides are leaving no stones unturned to outsmart each other. Both the sides have pressed on the gas. The big question is: who among SP’s Aparna Yadav and BJP’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi will have the last laugh?

The constituency

Lucknow Cantt has been a predominantly Brahmin constituency. Out of the 15 Vidhan Sabha elections, Brahmin candidates have won 10 times. Mostly, the contest has been among the BJP and the Congress in the constituency. However, this time, Congress has not fielded a candidate here. This time it is an SP-BJP battle.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s challenge 

Rita Bahuguna Joshi is an extremely strong candidate. She was the MLA from Lucknow Cantt constituency before the elections. She won 2012 election on Congress ticket, defeating BJP’s Suresh Chandra Tiwari. Suresh Chandra Tiwari had been winning the seat for three consecutive terms until she defeated him. The Bharatiya Janata Party had been winning the seat for the past 5 times until Joshi stopped them in 2012. This time, however, the tables have turned. Rita Bahuguna Joshi joined the BJP and is contesting from Lucknow Cantt on the party’s ticket.

The constituency favours Brahmin candidates traditionally and Rita Bahuguna Joshi is a Brahmin. Also, it has been a BJP stronghold. The only times in the past 25 years the BJP lost was at Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s hands. Now, she is contesting on the BJP ticket. She and the party are stronger than ever.

Aparna Yadav’s challenge 

Aparna Yadav got a ticket after a long-drawn struggle. Samajwadi Party patriarch had announced Aparna Yadav’s candidature when he was the party president. However, a pitched battle ensued between him and his son Akhilesh Yadav for power within the party. Akhilesh Yadav prevailed in the end and captured party’s presidential post, virtually sidelining Mulayam Singh Yadav. However, Mulayam remained persistent on his demand of a ticket to his younger daughter-in-law. In January, Akhilesh relented and gave the ticket to her for Lucknow Cantt.

In a recent interview, Aparna Yadav said that ever since the former SP chief announced her candidature, she started working in the constituency. She said she had been connecting with the people by going to local marriages. She had said that she would rope in all the members of the Yadav family to campaign for her. And she is nearly successful. (Also read: Third phase of Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections 2017: This one is a matter of prestige for Akhilesh Yadav)

Prestige issue 

After the unceremonious removal, Mulayam Singh Yadav reportedly refused to campaign for the party. However, he later relented and joined the campaign trail. One of the few candidates he campaigned for was Aparna Yadav. Mulayam Singh Yadav said her election was a matter of prestige. He was quoted by the Hindustan Times: “It is a matter of prestige for me. Aparna is my younger son’s wife. Please vote for her.”

Of course, it is a matter of prestige for Mulayam Singh Yadav. His list of candidates was rejected by his son. He was virtually dethroned from the presidential post of the party he created. He watches his son calling shots from the sidelines. He pushed hard for Aparna to get the ticket. And he would want her to win to salvage his hurt pride.However, her win is not only the question of prestige for Mulayam Singh Yadav. The entire Yadav clan has rallied for the ‘chhoti bahu’. She has become a uniting force for the divided ‘parivar’.

On Wednesday, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s elder daughter-in-law, Dimple Yadav campaigned for Aparna Yadav and made a fervent appeal for votes for her sister-in-law. It is expected that Akhilesh Yadav will also campaign for his half-brother’s wife. After all, it is the prestige of the Yadav family on the line.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi vs Aparna Yadav

Aparna Yadav has shown that she has a way with words even when she criticised her opponent. Months after having praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she criticised him, saying it was unbecoming of a person of his stature to announce a move like demonetisation. According to reports in the Financial Express, Rita Bahuguna Joshi had called her arrogant. “Aparna Yadav’s language is indecent. She has become arrogant, her way of publicity is also wrong. She is younger than me, so I would just like to suggest her to stay grounded. Flying high will not yield her either victory or respect,” she is reported to have said.

Here is what Aparna replied: “She should not have said this, I respect her very much. Listen to her older comments where she has used very indecent language. She is older than me and we should forgive our elders.”

While Rita Bahuguna Joshi had the BJP backing and a five-year-long term as an MLA to talk about, Aparna talks about the work she had done in a year without even becoming the MLA.

Meanwhile, a comment by Aparna Yadav last week got the BJP angry. She reportedly said that: “We are of a well-to-do family…Why should we take any caste-based reservation? I will not seek reservation for my daughter though she comes from a Yadav (Other Backward Caste) family”.

Her statement shows the mentality of SP towards Scheduled Castes and Backwards. It’s unfortunate that SP is talking about withdrawing reservation system,” senior BJP leaders Uma Bharti and Bhupendra Yadav said.

Can Aparna win?

Rita Bahuguna Joshi is a seasoned politician and the incumbent MLA. She defeated a tough challenge of the BJP in 2012 and now she is contesting from the party. She is tough to defeat. However, Aparna is young, resolute and comes from a big political family. With the support of her party elders, she can spring a surprise. Their fates now rest with the voters when they come out to vote on February 19.