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'Hindu Exodus' No Longer an Election Issue? Law & Order, Jobs Are the Buzz Words in Kairana This Time

Iqra Hassan, the sister of sitting MLA Naheed Hassan who has been booked under the Goondas Act, has filed her nomination as an Independent candidate. (Arunima/News18)

Iqra Hassan, the sister of sitting MLA Naheed Hassan who has been booked under the Goondas Act, has filed her nomination as an Independent candidate. (Arunima/News18)

Uttar Pradesh elections 2022: Years after BJP MP Hukum Singh alleged exodus of Hindu families, businessmen and farmers in Kairana say the atmosphere of fear has eased in the western Uttar Pradesh town.

At first glance, Kairana belies its status as the epicenter of a political storm in Uttar Pradesh. No political banner, poster or campaign material can be seen in this seemingly non-descriptive town in western Uttar Pradesh. But step into the Kairana bazaar and the consciousness of a high-profile constituency under scanner seeps through.

Kairana has 80% Muslim voters and stands accused of engineering the exodus of Hindus residents.

Kairana’s tryst with notoriety began in August 2014 when eight bike-borne men came to a shop in the bazaar and shot dead Vinod Kumar Singhal. His mother Brijrani tells News18 that the family has no idea why their son was targeted, but the incident left them scarred.

“We decided to leave Kairana. Who can risk the lives of small children? We had even finalised a house in Panipat, Haryana,” says Brijrani. The Singhal family ended up not leaving, but the murder and threats reportedly forced many other families to migrate.

Former BJP MP Hukum Singh had alleged that more than 300 families migrated, calling it an “exodus under threat”. Locals, however, peg the number of families who migrated at less than 10, clarifying that the majority of those in Singh’s initial list were families who left for reasons like employment.

The Main Electoral Issue

While different figures are thrown around on the exact number of migrations, there is consensus that an atmosphere of fear prevailed in Kairana, which seems to have eased in the last five years.

“I have been running my business for more than 30 years now. In the Samajwadi Party regime, there used to be murders in broad daylight. It is only now that we live in peace,” Kairana Vyapar Mandal president Anil Kumar Gupta tells News18.

The wall of Gupta’s toy shop is adorned with pictures of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Congress leaders Raj Babbar and Harish Rawat. He points to these to claim that he is apolitical and his comments do not have any political tilt.

Ayub Mansuri, a fellow businessman and office bearer of the Vyapar Mandal, agrees that things have changed for the better as far as law and order situation in Kairana is concerned.

100% pehle bhay ka mahaul tha (There was an atmosphere of fear earlier),” he says, but adds that the fear or the murders were not communal in nature.

Sandeep Sharma, a shopkeeper, nods in agreement. “Sabhi varg ke liye bhay ka mahaul tha. Gundagardi sabke liye tha. Dar lagta tha ki kab loot le (All sections were scared. Anyone could have been the target of goons and looting),” he says.

Does that make law and order the central issue for businessman in Kairana? Opinions differ.

“If the business community supports the BJP, improved law and order will be a huge factor for that decision,” says Anil Gupta.

Ayub Mansuri, however, feels that employment is the central issue. “Jahan tak kanoon vyavastha ka sawal hai, wo behter hua hai. Lekin rozgar ek bahut bada mudda hai (Law and order has improved but employment is still a huge issue),” Mansuri says.

Mohammed Akhtar also says he is unsure if law and order will be the deciding factor. “I can’t say if law and order will be the deciding factor, but I can tell you that things in Kairana today are very good,” the elderly shopkeeper says.

Divergent Opinions

Listening to the conversation eagerly were next door shopkeepers Mohammed Amzad and his associates. Amzad runs a shop of dress materials.

While the Vyapara Mandal president squarely named the Samajwadi Party for the law and order situation, Amzad gives a clean chit to the party and specifically local SP MLA Naheed Hasan. Hassan and his mother Tabassum have been booked by the UP police under the Goondas Act. He has been denied bail and the BJP has accused the Hassan family of actively encouraging “goonda raj” in Kairana.

Amzad disagrees with the charge. “Naheed Hassan has done a lot of work. When Covid-19 lockdown was imposed, everyone sat indoors. He came out to help people,” says Amzad.

Mohammed Furqan, who works as a labourer, also backs Hassan. “Jhoote case main phasaya gaya hai unko (Hassan has been implicated in false cases),” he says.

The support is music to the ears of Iqra Hassan, Naheed Hassan’s sister who has been campaigning while her brother is in jail. Iqra claims the cases against her brother and mother are attempts to keep the family away from elections.

“The charges against my family are false. There is no exodus in Kairana. Even Hukum Singh ji had clarified it. The central government has taken a stand (that there is no exodus), yet they keep doing politics around it and accuse us of triggering an exodus which didn’t happen. People will give them an answer this time,” Iqra tells News18 at the Shyamli Collectorate where she filed her nomination papers as an Independent candidate.

“They will go to any extent to stop my family. I don’t trust this government. So as a precautionary measure, I have field my papers,” she adds.

With both siblings in the fray, are the Hassan supporters confused? Farmer Arman Chowdhary says there is no confusion. “Between Iqra and Naheed, whoever ultimately stays in the fray will get our vote. The call will be taken closer to the poll date,” he says.

A Look at Voter Base

But it isn’t just the Hassan family which has such committed voters. In rural Kairana, BJP candidate Mriganka Singh, too, can rely on her voter base. Mriganka additionally has her father Hukum Singh’s legacy to help her. Her biggest strength is that she belongs to the party of Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath.

At the Kandela village, Nathi Ram Chauhan, a farmer, declares, “Hum to Yogi our Modi ko hi vote denge (Our vote is for Yogi and Modi).”

Ask them why, and law and order emerges as the key issue again. Inderpal Chauhan, a farmer and father of three girls, says, “Earlier, they would come at night and take away our cattle. Our girls, too, would be apprehensive of stepping out in the evenings. Now things are fine.”

Are Farm Laws Factor?

Have the farm laws or their repeal influenced farmers’ decision? When News18 put the question to sugarcane farmers from the Gujjar community, they answered in the negative. “That agitation was only for a varg vishesh (a specific community, the Jats). None of us from our village or nearby areas participated in the agitation,” says Suresh Chauhan.

In the next-door Jaganpur village, however, farmers are upset at not getting their money in time. Jaganpur also has traditionally voted for the BJP. But residents say many may not vote in protest against their sugarcane sale remuneration not being released from last year.

“Farmers would have voted for the BJP had their money been released on time. But now they are thinking, what is the point,” says Rajesh Chauhan.

Rajender Chauhan, a farmer and resident of Jaganpur, adds, “The sugarcane minister is from our area, yet the money from last year has not been released.”

The BJP has tried to address the resentment by promising the release of pending remuneration from last April. Mriganka Singh, too, has been promising her voters that their issues will be addressed.

At the Khorsama village, Mriganka addresses a mixed population. “It is a do-or-die battle this time,” she tells the villagers. She promises that their issues, like a local baarat ghar will be taken care of and hopes that when stalwarts like Union Home Minister Amit shah go from door-to-door seeking votes for her, people will rally around her unlike her previous two stints.

Her supporters are also closely watching the moves of Anil Chauhan, Mriganka’s cousin and a political aspirant. The Mriganka camp believes she lost the last time because of a rift within her own clan.

Congress candidate Akhlaq is also being watched closely in Kairana. Will the 3 lakh-plus Muslim votes split between the Muslim candidate of the Congress and the Samjawadi Party heavyweight? BJP supporters hope so, but Mriganka Singh claims votes in Kairana are not cast on religious lines.

“I have supporters from all over. I don’t need to tell them. They know how law and order has improved and the role that the Hassan family played in the earlier goonda raj, ” Mriganka signs off.

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