In Western UP, Battle to Win Over Minorities Hinges on Parties’ Ability to Woo Majority Voters
The campaign is driven by the belief that minorities, which constitute almost one third of the total electorate in some of the constituencies going to polls on April 11, will back the party seen to be as a strong challenge to the BJP.
Nahid Hasan (second from left) campaigning for his mother, Tabassum Hasan.
Saharanpur/Kairana: In western Uttar Pradesh, political parties are pulling all punches to woo minority voters as it braces for the first phase of polling on April 11.
“I know I am getting 2.5 lakh Hindu votes from the Brahmins, Kashyaps and Jats,” Harinder Malik, Congress’s candidate from Kairana, tells a gathering. Malik is addressing people in the forecourt of Liyaqat Pradhan’s house in Butrada village on the Meerut-Shamli highway.
“Mulayam Singh has given his blessings to Narendra Modi to become the prime minister. I now have to fight against the BJP,” he says.
Like several other politicians in western Uttar Pradesh, Malik has learnt the ropes from former prime minister Choudhary Charan Singh.
Malik’s speech in Butrada is a reflection of a keen contest for Muslim votes between the SP-BSP-RLD alliance and the Congress on some seats of western Uttar Pradesh. Ironically, the chances to win over the minorities may depend on just one factor: the ability to get votes from the majority community.
The campaign narrative on these lines is driven by the belief that minorities, which constitute almost one-third of the total electorate in some of the constituencies going to polls on April 11, will back the party seen to be as a strong challenge to the BJP.
This is evident from Kairana, where BJP’s Pradeep Choudhary is contesting against Malik and SP’s Tabassum Hasan. Hasan, who was fielded as a joint candidate of the opposition on an RLD ticket, had won last year’s bypoll.
In 2019, the elections in Kairana could well be determined by whether Congress’s Malik is able to wean away votes from majority community and whether this would lead to a section of the minorities choosing to back Malik instead of Hasan.
Five kilometers from Shamli, Hasan’s son Nahid arrives at Baiswal village to seek votes for her. Baiswal is majorly a Jat-dominated area. The issues he highlights are development and the non-performance of the Modi and Yogi government.
However, his tone is measured and cautious. The Gathbandhan understands the depth of its vote-base in constituencies like Kairana. It is working overtime to keep polarisation at bay.
In the adjoining Saharanpur seat, the Congress has reposed its faith in Imran Masood who lost the last Lok Sabha elections by a margin of less than 70,000 votes. Dalits and Muslims together in Saharanpur constitute almost half of the total electorate.
The ongoing debate within the minority community is whether to support Congress’ Imran Masood or BSP’s Fazlur Rehman. Rehman is a gathbandhan candidate supported by the SP and RLD.
“Masood has got his own appeal and popularity in the area. But minorities have voted for him in 2014. Even in the Modi wave, an upper caste BSP candidate could muster close to 2 lakh votes,” says a pan shop owner at Sidki.
This is why Masood has had to work doubly hard to demonstrate his ability to win over a section of the majority community votes. He is reaching out to two constituencies in particular, Dalits, especially the ones associated with the Bhim Army, and Gujjars.
“I am getting support from all sections. There is a Bhim Army factor here,” Masood says alluding to the split in the Dalit votes between him and the BSP candidate.
Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot is holding a rally for Masood in Gujjar dominated areas of Saharanpur.
The caste calculus in Saharanpur is not just limited to one community. BSP’s Fazlur Rehman comes from backward Muslim caste. Masood, on the other hand, is an upper-caste ‘Sheikh’. Rehman lost the local body elections last year by a narrow margin and some of his aides see the outcome a result of split in community votes on caste lines.
A split in minority votes suits the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The party, however, knows the real challenge comes from the opponent, which has a base that votes over and above what one can manage from the common kitty of minority voters.
It is not surprising, thus, that Saharanpur’s BJP candidate Raghav Lakhanpal is again seeing Congress’s Masood as a challenge. “The Congress and the BSP are fighting for the second and third place. However, it seems our fight in Saharanpur is with the Congress’s Masood,” Lakhanpal says.
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