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In western Uttar Pradesh, riot-affected Muslims bank on Mayawati

In western Uttar Pradesh, riot-affected Muslims bank on Mayawati

The contest in western Uttar Pradesh today is between the Dalits and Muslims who are backing Mayawati, and the Jats and upper castes who are backing Narendra Modi’s candidates.

Neha Dixit

Ten constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh go to the polls today, but since the riots in the region in August and September last year, political allegiances have shifted considerably.

Over the years, Jat farmers in this sugarcane belt have cast their votes for the Rashtriya Lok Dal, founded by Charan Singh and now headed by his son Ajit Singh. Even though the RLD has been taking credit for getting the Central government to announce reservations for Jats under the other backward classes category last month, its candidates in Kairana and Muzaffarnagar are barely part of the race.

The riots between Jats and Muslims presented the Bharatiya Janata Party the opportune moment to step in. The timing was perfect, because the incumbent parliamentarian, the BJP’s Hukum Singh from Kairana, who is accused of fanning violence during the riots, wasn’t really popular. The BJP has campaigned on the plank of having cases against the riot accused in the Jat-dominated area withdrawn. Leaders like Suresh Rana and Hukum Singh even declared that “these elections were a fight against those who were compensated for killing and slapping cases on Jats”.

BJP poll manager Amit Shah went a step forward at a meeting in Shamli by downplaying RLD’s contribution to ensuring reservation for the community. He noted that the Samajwadi Party that governs UP had promised reservations to the minorities under the OBC quota. “Whose jobs will they eat up?” asked Shah. “Of the Jats, who else? If Narendra Modi comes to power, we will oppose it.”

Both the BJP and the SP, which used to count Muslims among its strongest supporters, need each other to create insecurity to survive. The BJP has deflected attention from the issues of development and has instead been emphasising the need for Hindus to protect their religious identity.

The SP has largely lost the support of Muslim voters here because of its failure to end the riots quickly and compounded this by failing to rehabilitate victims effectively. “The SP has cheated us by failing to control the riots and protect our community,” said Rehmat, 50. “It even made a joke of our children’s death by saying ‘no one dies of cold’… The SP deserves a slap this time.”

In this polarised environment, the Muslim vote stands divided.

In Muzaffarnagar, BJP candidate is Sanjiv Baliyan, who was accused of playing a role in the riots. So was his chief competitor, Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Kadir Rana. Rana was recently booed out at a rally in Bulandshahr that was also attended by Mayawati. His constituents were angry with him for inciting riots and then going underground once the violence broke out.

In the Kairana constituency, 28-year-old Naheed Hasan from the SP is taking on BJP candidate Hukum Singh. So is his uncle Kanwar Hasan, of the BSP. They are both posing a huge challenge to Singh.

Gulshad, an activist in the Malakpur relief camp had a prediction about voting possibilities. “With 300,000 Muslim votes as compared to 700,00 upper caste votes in the area, the Muslims might vote for BSP to keep BJP at bay,” he said. The BSP has 250,000 dalit votes from the area. “If they [the Muslims] vote for SP, the counting will start from zero,” Gulshad said. “Muslims are further appreciative of the fact that there were no riots during Mayawati’s regime.” In 2009, the BSP won both the Lok Sabha seats of Kairana and Muzaffarnagar.

In a recent BSP rally in Kairana constituency, the suggestion that the Dalit vote was shifting to the BJP was dispelled when close to 50,000 people assembled to listen to Mayawati.  The smiles on the faces of women – some in burqas and some in bindis – stretched wide as the dalit leader’s blue- tailed helicopter landed behind the stage. This is the only rally in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli district to have had women participants. “We voted for SP but will now vote for BSP,” said Zoya Nadeem, 45, from Thana Bhawan village. “Only Behenji can stop gundagardi.”

They chanted a slogan: “Chaddh gundo ki chhaati par, mohar lagegi haathi par. We will stand on the chest of criminals as we cast our vote to the elephant.” This time, the dalits and the Muslims, men and women, could change the discourse of politics in the area.

The ruling SP had not done well in this region in the 2009 polls either. In the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, an election that saw the SP defeat the incumbent Mayawati, the region was still retained by Mayawati. She had won 18 of the 50 assembly seats spread across the area. The SP had won 12, and the BJP ten. The Congress and the RLD had won five each. The field is clearer this time, between the BSP’s elephant and the BJP’s lotus.

Published by on April 10, 2014
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