Childhood friends Vinod Singh Yadav and Amar Singh Yadav do not remember an occasion on which they have disagreed with each other in the past.

But since the Lok Sabha elections were announced on March 10, the two friends have been arguing incessantly over which party their Yadav community should support in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. These arguments get loud sometimes, and other friends from the community, which is categorised among the Other Backward Classes, have to intervene to cool things down.

While Vinod Singh Yadav describes himself as a “hardcore Hindutvawadi and Narendra Modi supporter”, Amar Singh Yadav wants Yadav candidates to win from seats where his community is in the majority, in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh.

On April 12, the two friends along with some other young men from nearby villages had gathered at Amar Singh Yadav’s shop at the Shikohabad crossing in Firozabad district, where he runs a small transport business.

As usual, the Lok Sabha elections came up, and soon the friendly conversation turned into a heated argument.

“Don’t come to my shop until the elections are over,” said Amar Singh Yadav. “Every time you come here, you just talk about BJP and Modi. You are beginning to sound like a BJP spokesperson.”

Vinod Singh Yadav laughed off the jibe, and said he would keep visiting the shop till he succeeded in changing his friend’s mind. “That will never happen,” said Amar Singh Yadav, resolutely. “I am a proud Yadav while you are a disgrace to Yadavs.”

Firozabad district is part of western Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad Lok Sabha constituency. Known for its glass industry, it is a bastion of the Samajwadi Party along with the constituencies of Mainpuri, Etawah, Shahjahanpur and Kannauj. The Samajwadi Party is seen as representing the interests of Yadavs, who form the majority population in most of these constituencies.

Young Yadavs here are rooting for a victory of the mahagatbandhan or Grand Alliance between Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. They are planning to vote in large numbers for the alliance and protect the interests of the party that gives them political patronage.

They view Akhilesh Yadav, who they refer to as “Akhilesh bhaiyya” or brother, as their undisputed leader. Many believe he has the qualities to become a greater leader than his father, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Firozabad votes on April 23, in the third phase of the elections, along with Mainpuri. The constituencies of Shahjahanpur, Etawah and Kannauj go to the polls on April 29.

This story has been reported from four Lok Sabha constituencies.

‘Akhilesh Yadav poster boy’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the only reason he supported the BJP, declared Vinod Singh Yadav, attempting to justify why he was an outlier with regard to his political preferences.

“The country is in safe hands under Modi and he has ensured that there is no dynastic politics in BJP,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of this Yadav politics because the nation comes first for me.”

He went on to list Modi’s achievements, saying that the poor in India had benefitted during the BJP’s rule over the last five years, and that India was now a superpower thanks to the prime minister’s efforts.

Vinod Singh “has been brainwashed by WhatsApp forwards and TV news debates”, retorted Amar Singh Yadav. He claimed that not more than 5% of Yadav youth – who have been similarly indoctrinated – will vote for the BJP.

“What development are you talking about?” he asked. “Our villages have had pucca houses with regular electricity for more than a decade. So, what else has Modi done for us? We were hoping that the youth will get jobs but that has turned out to be a jumla. Yes, he has given Rs 2,000 to farmers but one should ask why was this amount given just before the elections. Swacchta programme [Swachh Bharat] is a flop in our district.”

Vinod Singh Yadav conceded that there were few Yadav youngsters who were pro-BJP this time, saying he was yet to meet another Yadav contemporary who was rooting for the saffron party. “Akhilesh Yadav remains the poster boy of young Yadavs in this region,” he said, as the other Yadav men gathered there nodded in approval.

Childhood friends Amar Singh Yadav (second from left) and Vinod Singh Yadav (third from left) with their friends. (Photo credit: Akash Bisht).

‘Akhilesh will go far’

Benus Yadav of Jhapara village in Firozabad also believes Akhilesh Yadav has the potential to go far in politics.

“If we can help Akhilesh bhaiyya emerge as a force in national politics, it will be a great victory for us,” he said. “He has the potential to do even better than Netaji [Mulayam Singh Yadav] at the national level.”

Benus Yadav spoke about the various schemes that Akhilesh Yadav launched during his tenure as Uttar Pradesh chief minister between 2012 and 2017, particularly the free laptops scheme for students, which, he said, benefitted many students.

“Now he has promised to set up an Ahir Regiment” in the army, said Benus Yadav.

The term “Yadav” refers to many castes that were once known by different names in different parts of the country. Ahirs are one of them.

An Ahir Regiment would solve the jobs crisis, according to Benus Yadav, and provide opportunities to youth like him who are struggling to find permanent sources of employment.

The construction of the Taj Expressway, connecting Agra with Lucknow, was Akhilesh Yadav’s biggest achievement, he added. “He is young and has done a lot for the youth,” he said. “He is also from our community so there is no reason why I should not vote for him or his candidate.”

Satendra Singh Yadav of Shahjahanpur constituency. (Photo credit: Akash Bisht).

‘What has Modi done?’

A few kilometres away from Firozabad, Sonu Yadav, a 23-year-old national-level wrestler from Etawah parliamentary constituency, said he is a die-hard “Akhilesh bhaiyya” fan.

He said Akhilesh Yadav does not have any cases of corruption against him. “He could be the prime minister of this country in the near future,” added Sonu Yadav. “I am ready to bet that he will prove to be a better one than Modi.”

According to him, Modi has failed to fulfill any of the promises that he made during his election campaign in 2014. “Where is vikas [development], Ram Temple, repealing of Article 370 and crores of jobs?” he asked. “Now, suddenly, it is all about Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim. Why is Modi not talking about the more important issues?”

Sonu Yadav added sarcastically that the only development that has taken place under Modi was the construction of toilets. “Our situation is what it was five years ago, if not worse,” he said.

Sonu Yadav is an alumnus of KK Degree College of Etawah and proudly stated that Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav also graduated from there.

SS Yadav, who teaches political science in KK College, claimed that most of the Yadav youth from Etawah and neighbouring constituencies would vote for the alliance in the upcoming elections.

“During the 2014 elections, there must have been a lot of Yadav youth who must have voted for Modi but the situation has completely changed on the ground in the last five years,” he said.

According to him, the last two years of Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure as chief minister saw him connecting with young Yadav voters. “It is hard to say whether it was because of his schemes or personal appeal but he managed to win their confidence, which, in the absence of a Modi wave, exists till today,” said SS Yadav.

In the Mulayam Singh Yadav family borough of Mainpuri, Rishi Yadav of Khirya village acknowledged the connect Akhilesh Yadav had with young Yadav voters. He said the Samajwadi Party president did not indulge in politics of religion and caste.

“I am with Akhilesh,” he said. “I do not support him because of his Yadav surname but because he has a vision for not just UP [Uttar Pradesh] but also India. His brand of politics appeals to me and I am sure it does to several others, including non-Yadavs.”

Rishi Yadav praised Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to stitch together an alliance with Mayawati, saying that it had helped in presenting a strong opposition to Modi. “His decision-making skills reflect a certain sense of maturity,” he said. “Otherwise, I don’t think any other SP [Samajwadi Party] leader would have taken such a decision.”

Sonu Yadav (left) from Etawah and Rishi Yadav from Mainpuri.

Cycle and elephant

A few hours drive from Mainpuri, in Shahjahanpur parliamentary constituency, 29-year-old Satendra Singh Yadav had come to meet a local pradhan at Rampur village.

He is a hardcore Samajwadi Party supporter and has always voted for the party since he became eligible to vote. As the alliance has fielded a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate from Shahjahanpur, this is the first time he will be voting for Mayawati’s party.

“I always sit on the cycle and if our leader wants us to put this cycle on the elephant, I will do it,” he said. The cycle is the election symbol of the Samajwadi Party, while the elephant is the Bahujan Samaj Party symbol.

Satendra Singh Yadav said Akhilesh Yadav was politically savvy, and that his decision to align with Mayawati was a political masterstroke.

He believes Akhilesh Yadav is the only leader from Uttar Pradesh who can take on divisive forces and help not just the state but also India move forward on the path of “real development”. “Akhilesh Yadav brought development in Uttar Pradesh and will do so in the country as well,” he said.