Pollster's Guide to Phase 1 of Uttar Pradesh Elections
Akhilesh Yadav supporters
New Delhi: With little over a month left before the northern bellwether state of Uttar Pradesh goes to polls, the heat is already on in western Uttar Pradesh, which will vote first in the marathon election.
Fifteen districts of western UP, spanning 73 Assembly constituencies will go to polls in the first phase on February 11. From the Dadri lynching case of 2015 to the Kairana ‘exodus’ issue, the communal cauldron of western UP has been kept on the boil.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, western UP set the trend for the rest of the state following the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. The polarised atmosphere paid dividends for the BJP, which won 71 of the 80 seats in the state.
Here are some key constituencies to watch out for during the first phase of polling:
Kairana, Shamli district
Sitting MLA: Nahid Hasan, Samajwadi Party
Communal tensions in western UP were at a high in June and July 2016 after Kairana’s BJP MP Hukum Singh alleged that 250 Hindu families had fled Kairana over the last few years in a “mass exodus” due to “pressure from another community”. Singh even claimed that Kairana was becoming “another Kashmir” with Hindu families "fleeing". While the BJP leadership endorsed his claims, the district administration and the ruling Samajwadi Party vehemently denied them. According to the local administration, “only three families” had left Kairana due to “worsening law and order”. Singh, however, received a huge fillip after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) vindicated his claims and held riot-refugees responsible for altering the demographics of the small town. This had led to a disagreement between the NHRC and the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which held that the reports of an ‘exodus’ were exaggerated.
The BJP is scheduled to announce its first list by January 14 and sources say Singh has been campaigning for his daughter Mriganka Singh to get a BJP ticket from Kairana.
The town is home to hundreds of refugee families who were displaced after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. While the demographics of Kairana town, which has nearly 80% Muslims, is to the BJP’s disadvantage, the division of minority votes between the SP and the BSP may help the saffron party.
Muzaffarnagar city, Muzaffarnagar district
Sitting MLA: Kapil Dev Aggarwal, BJP
2016 started with a high-pitched bypoll campaign for the Assembly seats in Muzaffarnagar, Deoband and Bikapur. After SP MLA Chitaranjan Swaroop passed away in August 2015, the BJP nominated Kapil Dev Aggarwal to the seat. The campaign, however, was driven largely by Union minister and riot-accused Muzaffarnagar MP Sanjeev Balyan and was communally charged. Aggarwal’s official slogan was ‘bahu beti ke samman mein, Kapil Dev maidan mein’ (For the honour women, Kapil Dev is in the fray).
The Muzaffarnagar seat was held by the SP from 2007 to 2015, but the dynamics changed after the Muzaffarnagar riots and the rise of the BJP’s star campaigner, Sanjeev Balyan, who would put in all efforts to ensure his party wins in Muzaffarnagar, which he represents in the Lok Sabha.
Sardhana, Meerut district
Sitting MLA: Sangeet Som, BJP
A major hub of sugarcane production, Sardhana has been in the news due to its controversial BJP MLA Sangeet Som. In 2012, Som won in a bitter political contest against SP’s Atul Pradhan, known to be a close confidante of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. The rivalry between the two leaders, both in their 30s, continued beyond the elections. Supporters of the two nearly clashed with each other in June last year when Som announced that he would undertake a ‘Nirbhay Yatra’ from Sardhana to Kairana to let Hindus know that they “weren’t alone”. Pradhan, who is also the chief of the SP student’s wing, announced a parallel ‘Sadbhavna Yatra’ for communal harmony. Neither of the yatras had permission from the administration and both were called off mere minutes after they took off .
Som has also kept himself busy in other communally restive areas. He visited Bisada village in Dadri, where Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched after rumours that he had consumed beef, despite prohibitory orders being put in place. The challenge for Pradhan, however, is the feud in the Samajwadi Party leadership. In the first list of candidates, released by SP state chief Shivpal Yadav, Pradhan lost out on a ticket. After Akhilesh Yadav’s list, however, he was listed as the candidate from Sardhana. Pradhan’s fate as the official SP candidate rests on the Election Commission’s decision on the SP’s internal feud.
Dadri, Gautam Budh Nagar district
Sitting MLA: Satveer Singh Gujjar
Barely 40 km from the national capital, Dadri was in the news after Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched in Bisada village over rumours that he had stored beef in his fridge. The incident sparked a nationwide debate over the rise of intolerance in India. Politicians from across the spectrum made a beeline for Bisada, keeping the issue alive for months. The BSP has decided to place its bet on sitting MLA Satveer Singh Gujjar, while the BJP candidate is yet to be announced. It is believed that former MLA Nawab Singh Nagar, who lost the election in 2012 to Gujjar, will be given a BJP ticket again from the region.
Kithore, Meerut district
Sitting MLA: Shahid Manzoor, SP
The constituency of SP veteran and state cabinet minister Shahid Manzoor, who has held the seat since 2002, this was considered a “safe seat” for the three-time MLA until the top leadership of the Samajwadi Party broke out in open war. While Manzoor was named as candidate by both uncle and nephew, it is unlikely that he will stick with Akhilesh Yadav if father Mulayam loses control over the party. Manzoor is a self-professed “Mulayam loyalist” and a part of the SP old guard.
Meerut Cantt, Meerut district
Sitting MLA: Satyaprakash Aggarwal, BJP
A strong concentration of traders in the area makes Meerut Cantt a stronghold of the BJP, which has not lost the seat since 1995. The infighting in the local party unit, however, could mar the party’s prospects here. While the party has said that “almost all” sitting MLAs will get a ticket again, there are multiple contenders for this plum seat. Vineet Sharda, the 51-year-old state secretary of the BJP’s traders’ cell, has openly staked claim to the seat and raised concerns over 77-year-old sitting MLA Satyaprakash Aggarwal’s age.
Baghpat, Baraut and Chaprauli, Baghpat district
Sitting MLAs: Hemlata Chaudhary (BSP), Lokesh Dixit (BSP), Vir Pal (RLD)
Once considered an impenetrable fortress of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Baghpat delivered a rude shock to RLD chief Ajit Singh when he lost his familial seat of Baghpat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election to BJP’s Satyapal Singh. The high concentration of both Dalits and Jats in the district makes it ripe ground for both the BSP and the RLD, but after the debacle in 2014 and waning support among their respective core voter bases, both parties will be fighting for survival against a resurgent BJP. If the “grand alliance” between the Congress, SP and RLD fails to go through, it will make matters worse for the RLD.
Mathura city, Mathura district
Sitting MLA: Pradeep Mathur, Congress
On June 2, 2016, the otherwise peaceful Mathura Cantt area erupted into violent clashes between police and squatters at the city’s Jawahar Bagh. Cops had reached Jawahar Bagh to carry out an anti-encroachment operation against a cult organisation known as Swadhin Bharat Subhash Sena, which claimed to be followers of Subhash Chandra Bose. The cult had occupied vast stretches of the public park and, to the surprise of the police, were heavily armed. The resultant clashes led to the deaths of two policemen, including Mathura’s superintendent of police (city) Mukul Dwivedi, and 22 squatters. While Congress MLA Pradeep Mathur has been winning the seat since 2002, there is considerable anger against the ruling Samajwadi Party following the incident. The BJP is all set to make the Mathura incident a major poll plank and an alliance with the SP could hurt Mathur’s chances.
Aligarh city, Aligarh district
Sitting MLA: Zafar Alam, SP
With a large concentration of Muslims in the city — nearly 43% — the BJP’s chances are slim in this constituency. However, the lack of a unified Opposition may help the Samajwadi Party. Aligarh’s BJP mayor Shakuntala Bharti is also seen as a polarising figure. Last year, she had openly declared that her “mission” was to “protect cows and Hindu girls”. A polarised election campaign could concentrate Hindu votes and turn the tables in the Aligarh constituency, a seat the BJP last won in 1993.
Assembly segments in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri (10 segments), Agra district
The Lok Sabha constituencies of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri have a combined total of 10 assembly segments. Six of these are held by the BSP, while the BJP and SP hold two each. The BJP’s Agra MP, former Union minister Ram Shanker Katheria, is seen as a polarising figure and could turn the tide with his fiery speeches. Last year, Katheria courted controversy by calling for a “final battle” after a VHP activist was murdered in Agra. In December 2014, the Bajrang Dal had organised a ‘ghar wapsi’ event in Agra and claimed that they had “reconverted” 250 Muslim families to Hinduism. The ‘ghar wapsi’ plank could be raised again in the city of Taj.
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