Mayawati's Muslim Appeal and Modi's Sharp Counter Attack Could Turn Tables in Crucial West UP Belt
In an attempt to cut Congress votes in western Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati may just have helped her bigger rival BJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BSP chief Mayawati.
Lucknow: Electoral battles often get highly influenced by certain comments made by political leaders. In the recent history, particularly in Opposition’s fight against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, certain comments have evidently changed the course of the electoral game.
In 2007, it was former Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s “Maut Ke Saudagar” jibe during Gujarat assembly elections and in 2014 the “Chai Wala” jibe flung by Congress’s Manishankar Aiyyar is said to have given the saffron party an edge. In run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it is Mayawati who might just have given the BJP that ray of hope. Atleast the BJP feels so.
On April 7, in the first joint rally of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance held in Deoband area of Saharanpur Parliamentary constituency, the BSP chief sparked a controversy by making an open appeal to Muslims. “The Muslims should not get confused by the Congress. It’s only the SP-BSP-RLD alliance which is fighting the BJP. The Muslims should only vote for the alliance to defeat the BJP,” she said.
The BJP was quick to accuse Mayawati of indulging in politics of appeasement and violating the model code of conduct. By evening, the Election Commission of India had taken suo moto cognizance of the matter and sought a report from the State Election Commission on the matter.
In an interview to News18 Network Group Editor-in-Chief Rahul Joshi, PM Modi further escalated the BJP’s attack on Mayawati and the alliance. “Those who were enemies are now hugging each other. The ground in Uttar Pradesh is slipping from under their feet. Mayawati is desperate. Her ship is sinking. Election commission should take a call on whether this is appealing in the name of a particular religion or not,” he said.
“What if someone had canvassed for Hindu votes in the same way? Where is the secular gang now? Where is the ‘award wapsi’ gang now?” he asked.
Amid all the uproar over Mayawati’s remark, the question is: Was it a deliberate choice of words or a mere impromptu statement? And why is the BJP so aggressive about her comment?
The realities of politics lie in the unique demography of western Uttar Pradesh, especially the region going to polls in phase one and phase two. Beyond it, the Hindu-Muslim discourse to varying extent can be a factor across the state, where the BJP is facing a mega challenge from a strong caste consolidation of Dalit and Backwards for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance.
During the Lok sabha polls in 2014 and in the 2017 Assembly polls, voting in the region had been defined more by the religious fault lines than the caste fault lines. The Muzzafarnagar riots in 2013 became an influencing factor in the 2014 polls. In the 2017 assembly polls, a large-scale ticket distribution to minorities, especially by the BSP which gave around 97 such tickets, was said to be a prime reason for counter polarization of Hindus. The Congress-SP alliance was also seen as being opportunist and this had gone in the BJP’s favour.
The minority population has a strong presence in this region. In Saharanpur, the Muslims constitute for around 38 percent of the total voters. Their strength is around 32 % in Bijnor, 31 % each in Merrut and Muzzafarnagar, 26 % in Kairana, 20 % in Bagpat, 18.5% in Ghaziabad and roughly 14% in Gautam Budh Nagar.
In phase two, the Nagina constituency has more than 41% Muslim voters and in Amroha, they make for around 35.5% voters. Similarly, in Aligarh and Bulandshahar there are around 15% Muslim voters.
While crafting their alliance against the BJP, the SP-BSP-RLD have moved forward cautiously, trying hard to play more on the caste sentiment rather than the religious one, unlike the past when not just a limited number of Muslims were made candidates. Only four out of 16 seats going to polls in phase one and phase two has a Muslim candidate from the alliance.
Also, the alliance leaders have this time refrained from reacting to the provocative statements made by the likes of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath in his election rallies. In fact, both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati refrained from venturing in phase one region for quite some time, fearing that an aggressive campaign in the region may lead to a certain degree of communal polarisation. That was one big reason why both the leaders held their first rally in the region only on April 7, just 48 hours before the campaign would have stopped for phase one.
But in her very first and also the last election rally, Mayawati raised the biggest controversy of the elections till this point. On the condition of anonymity, a senior BSP leader told News 18, “Mayawati ji’s statement was well-thought of. She prepares her speeches well in advance. So the possibility of making such an explosive statement without considering its impact is remote. Her intention was to build a strong case for the Saharanpur seat.”
In Saharanpur, the Congress has a strong candidate in Imran Masood. Masood was the runner up in 2014 elections, losing to the BJP by a margin of around 60 thousand votes. This time, the seat is witnessing a triangular fight, with Hazi Fazulur Rehman being the alliance candidate and Ragahv lakhan fighting on a BJP ticket.
Mayawati, through her open appeal and counter-responses coming in from the BJP, might have been able to drive in the message that it is the alliance and not the Congress, which is in a direct fight with the BJP. Amid appeals and counter attack from the saffron party, even from PM Modi himself, the electoral battle might have got concentrated between the BJP and the SP-BSP-RLD alliance, pushing aside the Congress.
As polling for the eight seats of phase one in western UP began on Thursday, it will be interesting to see if Mayawati’s statement and Modi’s strong counterattack can set the ball rolling for polarisation on religious lines, superseding that on the caste lines. If it happens, it will clearly be a breather for the BJP. In trying to counter enemy number two that is the Congress, BSP chief Mayawati might just have helped her bigger opponent.
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