Elections 2019: In Rohilkhand, BJP pushes ‘vikas’ with some polarisation

Of the 10 seats that vote in the third phase in Uttar Pradesh on April 23 , seven fall in the north-western Rohilkhand region, home to constituencies as high profile as Bareilly, Moradabad, Rampur and Pilibhit. Muslims have a large presence in Rohilkhand, with a population of 50.57 percent in Rampur, 52.17 percent in Sambhal and 47.12 percent in Moradabad, according to Census 2011. The numbers taper off in Bareilly (34.54 percent), Pilbhit (24.11 percent) and Badaun (21.47 percent). Despite the big population of Muslims, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won all the Rohilkhand seats in 2014, barring Badaun that elected Dharmendra Yadav, a nephew of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party (SP) patriarch. How do the stats stack up after the SP’s alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)?

“The gathbandhan (alliance) weighs heavily on us,” conceded Brahmanand, the BJP’s former Sambhal town president, adding, “we have recalibrated our strategies and tweaked the campaign to meet the coalition challenges.”

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To get a sense of how the demographics worked in Sambhal, traditionally an SP stronghold, in the 2014 parliamentary election, the BJP’s candidate, Satyapal Singh Saini bested the SP’s incumbent MP, Shafiqur Rahman Barq, but only by 4, 932 votes and not the spectacular margins that the other BJP victors posted. The BSP had also fielded a Muslim, Aqeelur Rehman Khan, who secured a vote percentage of 23.90 percent. If that was added to the 33.59 percent that Barq polled, Saini, who got 34.08 percent, would have lost decisively.

The BJP’s penultimate push to retain its hold over Rohilkhand rested on three factors: work on the BSP’s Dalits, particularly those of the Jatav sub-caste and split their votes as those of the Yadavs are primarily and largely loyal to the SP. Propagate the Centre’s schemes and stress on how inclusive and equitable these were, in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” credo. Spread the word that while Hindus “charitably” vote Muslim candidates of the gathbandhan, not a single Muslim will vote the BJP. “What do you call this, if not treachery?” asked Mahendra Singh Saini, the BJP’s prabhari (minder) of the Chandausi assembly constituency in Sambhal Lok Sabha .

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Mukesh Valmiki, a Dalit and the BJP’s coordinator of the Sambhal assembly seat, was tasked to “win over” the BSP voters. “I am equipped with lists that have the block and ward-wise names of all those who benefitted from the central government’s schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, household toilets, Ayushman Bharat and Ujwala. I approach the Jatavs to cross-check and see if they have received the benefits. I ask them, if you have gained from the Centre’s schemes, why aren’t you voting BJP and Modiji?” said Valmiki. Of course, he, like his BJP colleagues, wouldn’t say if a negative response from the targeted beneficiaries would eventually be on peril of losing the Centre’s “largesse”. “At least, we can identify our loyalists from the traitors,” he remarked.

In Moradabad, 37 km from Sambhal, the home of Vinod Agarwal, the Mayor, was a hub of activity. Young volunteers from the BJP’s central war room in Delhi—the girls outfitted in white salwar-kurta and a saffron dupatta and the boys in casual tees and jeans—have descended on the same mission that Valmiki and the Sambhal team pursued. Agarwal, who is the coordinator for the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate, Sarvesh Kumar Singh, rued, “Why has caste replaced development in this election? What hasn’t our government done? We have cleared the backlog payments of sugarcane farmers, we have restored law and order by throwing every ‘goonda’ behind bars or eliminating them in police encounters. Today, girls can walk safely on Moradabad’s roads at night. Jan Dhan bank accounts, Mudra loans, cheap mobile data, what more can people ask for? Yet, however much the government does, people of a certain religion won’t vote the BJP.”

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Agrawal farmed out specific localities to the Delhi volunteers, directed them to focus only on the Dalits and “if possible”, Muslim women and ask what “miracles” Mayawati would perform with “10 or 15 MPs” that Modi with a majority will not.

Rajesh Tripathi, an RSS swayamsevak (volunteer) who is also a Rotarian, said he specially organised Navratra fairs and community festivals in the Dalit- majority areas to canvass votes for the BJP. “If we identify even two members in a family who are favourably inclined towards the BJP and can influence the others, our job is done,” said Tripathi.

Like Sambhal, the gathbandhan put up a Muslim candidate in Moradabad, Dr ST Hasan as has the Congress, Imran Pratapgarhi, a poet who reportedly charges a huge amount for his public recitals. Asked if the BJP’s intense thrust could split the Dalit votes, Gulab Singh, the BSP’s area coordinator, said, “The order from behenji (Mayawati) is we must vote the gathbandhan. No amount of threats and blandishments will make us change our mind. The BJP always tried to use Dalits as pawns. They won’t succeed this time.”

Twitter: @RadRama

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