The most difficult thing in any election is to read the voters’ mind. It becomes all the more difficult when caste complexities and religious polarisation become the deciding factors. Kairana in UP is a classic example of such a mix of ideas, issues, politics and people.
The run-up to Lok Sabha by-poll to be held on May 28 has transformed Kairana into a political laboratory with stakeholders experimenting to find their formula for success in the 2019 elections.
The Lok Sabha seat fell vacant following the death of BJP MP Hukum Singh, the man “credited with” the “Hindu exodus” that polarised voters in 2017 Assembly elections. The BJP has reposed faith in his daughter Mriganka Singh who will be fighting Tabassum Hasan, fielded by the Rashtriya Lok Dal and backed by the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. Tabassum, a former MP, is the wife of veteran SP leader Munawar Hasan. If Mriganka manages to win this by-election, it would also mean settling “old scores” with the Hasan family – Tabasum’s son Nahid Hassan had defeated Mriganka in the 2017 Assembly elections.
Obviously, the stakes are high as the BJP, pitted against a united Opposition, faces an uphill climb to reclaim its territory. So, on a scorching May afternoon, as BJP leaders gradually arrived at a small meeting ground in a congested market area in Shamli, desperation was writ large on their faces.
BJP leaders address a rally in Shamli in the run-up to May 28 Kairana by-poll. [Credit: Mausami Singh]
One of them, taking the microphone, tried his best to whip up hysteria, but the crowd didn’t seem too enthused. The stage was jam-packed with men in starched kurtas and a few women in sarees. A bunch of ministers, legislators and the state BJP chief sat together in a show of strength. After having burnt its fingers in the by-elections of Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the saffron party is treading with caution. Off the record, BJP leaders admit that the odds are heavily against them.
With Yogi Adityanath in the state and Narendra Modi at the Centre, winning Kairana should ideally have been a cakewalk for the BJP, but for the demography of this constituency and the new Opposition alliance. Out of 17 lakh voters, almost five and half lakh are Muslims and about two lakh are Dalits, and a consolidation of the two for any candidate would mean an easy victory.
Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate Tabassum Hasan is backed by the SP, BSP and Congress. [Credit: Mausami Singh]
The nationwide protests called by Dalit outfits on May 2 are an indicator of the simmering discontent and anger among the community. Many of them voted for Modi in 2014, but there is a growing sense of disappointment with the ruling BJP. In such a scenario, they only have Mayawati to look up to. With the latest alliance in place, the caste balance is heavily tilted in favour of the Opposition. To add to the Dalit and Muslim votes, the Jats have a strong emotional connect with Chaudhary Charan Singh’s RLD.
When combined, the Jats and other backward caste voters make up 11.5 lakh votes.
BJP candidate Mriganka Singh is the daughter of the late MP Hukum Singh. [Credit: Facebook/Mriganka Singh]
There is an old saying in Uttar Pradesh that whichever party wins over the “burqa and khurpa” (a combination of Muslims, Dalits and OBCs) rules the state.
Raking up ‘Hindu exodus’
As BJP leaders addressed the small gathering of a few hundred people in Shamli, it was clear that the political discourse would invariably veer towards “migration” and “ghar wapsi”.
Controversial leader and state minister Suresh Rana, thundered: “Who was Hukum Singh? He always stood for the welfare of his people, he was the person who raised the issue of migration in the beginning.”
“Ever since Yogi government has come to power the law and order situation has improved greatly.”
“Many have come back, people are calling to get their children admitted in school here.”
Almost two years back, Hukum Singh had flashed a list of 346 Hindu families alleging that they had fled the district due to rampant lawlessness and fear. Various media reports though disputed the BJP’s claims on “Kairana exodus” after probe.
Regardless of the facts, the BJP propaganda machine went into an overdrive to make it a poll issue.
‘Encounter raj’ or no-tolerance policy?
It is clear that the ruling party doesn’t have enough issues to whip up a frenzy among voters. While voters are not ready to buy its promise of good governance, the party has faltered big time on the employment front as well.
Since restoring law and order was one of its main poll plank during the 2017 Assembly election, BJP leaders have been flaunting a string of “encounters” as the government’s no-tolerance policy against crime. This despite various reports accusing the BJP of misusing the UP police to create fear among people with fake encounters.
In a constituency with a deeply divisive history, political parties and poll rhetoric hardly have any place for development and livelihood issues.