Congress Is Hurting Mahagathbandhan More Than The BJP Even In Kairana

Congress Is Hurting Mahagathbandhan More Than The BJP Even In Kairana

by Arihant Pawariya - Wednesday, April 10, 2019 07:03 PM IST
Congress Is Hurting Mahagathbandhan More Than The BJP Even In KairanaAkhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. (Photo by Ashok Dutta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • Conversations on the ground reveal that the Congress is hurting mahagathbandan’s prospects more than the BJP’s.

Of the eight seats in Western Uttar Pradesh going to polls on 11 April, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is contesting five (Saharanpur, Bijnor, Meerut, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) on two (Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat) and Samajwadi Party on just one seat (Kairana). Out of these, Congress didn’t field candidates on two seats which fell in RLD’s quota. In Saharanpur and Bijnor, the grand old party has made life difficult for SP-BSP-RLD grand alliance by fielding strong Muslim candidates.

That’s the reason BSP supremo Mayawati, at a rally in Saharanpur Lok Sabha constituency, cautioned Muslims to not let their votes get divided on election day and exhorted them to vote en masse for the alliance rather than Congress candidates. If SP and BSP were expecting Congress to roll over after it was denied entry into the alliance, then such expectations have been belied. Since, it was Mayawati who vetoed inclusion of Congress in gathbandhan, her party and not SP seems to be the prime target of Congress’ wrath. That’s the conventional wisdom.

But Congress candidates in Meerut and Ghaziabad will hurt the BJP and help BSP ones. That should make it even.

As far as loss to SP is concerned, we have to look at Kairana, the only seat the party is contesting in the first phase. Congress has fielded Harendra Malik, a Jat, from here. According to political pundits, he is going to hurt the BJP more as Jats voted en bloc for the saffron party in 2014 ensuring handsome victory for veteran Gurjar leader Hukum Singh. In the 2018 by-poll, they came back to RLD and ensured Tabassum Hasan’s victory, who fought on RLD’s symbol, and is now fighting on SP’s.

To assess the reality on the ground, this correspondent travelled to major villages in Shamli assembly constituency, where Jat voters hold sway.

When you move from Baghpat to Kairana constituency, Ailum is the first major village that falls on Baraut-Saharanpur highway. Sanjiv Panwar, a security guard, sitting on a wooden charpai outside his dilapidated house, chants ‘Har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi” as I introduce myself. He voted for Tabassum Hasan in the by-poll last year. “That was because she was fighting on handpump sign (RLD’s symbol). That’s not the case this time.”

“But tell me, Muslims here have got money in their account for Awas but not me. I am a poor person too and live in a kutcha house. Muslims still won’t vote for Modi but I will. I am happy that at least some poor have benefited,” he adds. Panwar is a widower and has two kids.

His neighbours, Udayveer Panwar and Omprakash Panwar, are enthusiastic supporters of the BJP and didn’t go with RLD even in the last election. Their friend Rampal Panwar, who is standing with them in the street, is from neighbouring Bhaneda village. “I am an old Lok Dal supporter. We have a big problem of sugarcane arrears. Farmers are really fed up of this government. I will be voting for mahagathbandhan,” he says.

Udayveer counters Rampal’s charge about cane arrears. “January’s payment has already come. This is not an issue at least in Ramala Mill where we take our harvest,” he informs. A few lanes ahead, Rajpal and his nephew Pushpender Panwar are getting ready to leave house for their farm. While uncle is Lok Dal supporter, nephew is BJP member and is in charge of one of the booths in the village. Rajpal voted for RLD in the last election. This time he is leaning towards the BJP though he hasn’t made the final call. “Kisaano ka to kuch ho nahi raha hai. But at least in larger national interest, BJP is better,” he says.

On Harendra Malik, Pushpender Panwar says he doesn’t have many votes in the village. “Only those Lok Dal supporters who hate the BJP and also don’t want to vote for Tabassum will prefer Malik,” he reasons.

On the main road, two Jat elders are sitting on wooden cot and cane bar stools. One of them, Sudesh Pal, says he will be voting for the BJP happily. One 78-year-old elder, who wants to be anonymous, tells us that though he hasn’t yet decided but may have to eventually go with the BJP because voting for Tabassum is out of question. “There is no use voting for Malik too. Usko vote dena toh vote barbad karne jaisa hai (voting for Malik is akin to wasting our vote,” he rues.

From Ailum, Kaniyan village is just 4kms away. Here too one is hard pressed to spot Malik’s supporter. Satendra Pawariya, a farmer, tells Swarajya that Malik doesn’t have any support base here, not to mention that he is a Congress candidate which has hardly any takers in this area. He said that sugarcane payment problem has worsened under the BJP, still most of villagers are supporting the party. “Agar BJP ne ganne ki payment sahi time pe dene pe focus kiya hota to yahan phir se sweep hota,” he tells us.

“If Congress was in power, we would never have gotten Abhinandan back. Modi brought him home in a couple of days,” Satendra explains his reason for favouring the BJP. “Congress manifesto is dangerous. They want to decriminalise sedition. Who will vote for them even if some like Malik?” says an elder, who joins Satendra.

Even among Jatavs, 15 out of 20 families are supporting the BJP, Naresh Mongia assures. However, he is in the minority. “We have got all connections. But now we have to pay for everything. Pehle toh bina connection do-teen ghante jo jarurat tha utna light ka jugaad ho jaata tha. Now, expenses have gone up,” he says, justifying power theft.

From here we move to Bhabhisa village. Ombir Singh is resting in his palatial haveli, the sort of which is a common sight in this prosperous sugarcane belt. “The whole family is divided. I am voting for Tabassum because I know her personally, my elder son is with Harendra Malik because he is our distant relative and my younger son is a BJP supporter,” Singh says. His younger son Rahul Tanwar has just come from fields. “In Kandhla town, which is Muslim majority, if we gave Rs 100 and bought something, the shopkeeper would again ask for money pretending we didn’t pay. And we would’ve to pay again. That’s how emboldened they were under previous regime. Now they don’t dare behave like thugs. Incidents of theft and loot, even in the village, were quite common. Now, you can even travel safely in the night,” Tanwar says.

“I can’t forget 2013 violence even if I want to. Voting for Tabassum is not an option,” he adds.

At another haveli, five people are sitting on their wooden cots, engaged in casual chit chat. All of them voted for the RLD. This time, they are voting for gathbandhan. On asking about rationale behind their choice, Pradeep Jawla explains, “Muslims and Dalits are voting for our RLD in Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat. It won’t be right if we don’t vote for their party here. It’s a matter of principle.”

“And if RLD can’t transfer Jat votes to other parties, who will ally with them in future?” asks Bijender Singh.

Next we move to Lisad village, which has many brickworks. Near one factory, a group of seven people is sitting on charpais — four youngsters, two in their 70s and one farmer in his 50s. All voted for RLD last year. This time, barring a couple, they are in the BJP’s camp.

“Harendra Malik isn’t a strong candidate here. He can’t possibly win. So, no use voting for him,” says Arvind Malik. “He is damaging gathbandhan more because those staunch RLD voters who don’t want to go with the BJP are preferring him,” he adds.

Anant Pal Malik who will be voting for the BJP, however, wants to register his protest over cane arrears. “People in this region don’t need development if the government clears their payment on time. And if BJP government was proactive on the sugarcane front, you wouldn’t have even found an opponent trying to fight against the BJP. This and the problem of stray cattle are big issues,” he says.

On being asked about unemployment problem, Shish Pal Malik, a farmer, who is also voting for the BJP, says (tongue firmly in cheek) that they have all got new jobs. “Yogi ne sabko naukri de rakhi hai. Har ghar mein naukri. That of protecting their harvest at night from being eaten by stray cattle,” he explains as others break into bouts of laughter.

Stray cattle seems to be a big issue in the village. This correspondent came across many cows roaming the streets. “You come here in the evening. At least 300 stray cattle are in this village alone,” Pankaj Malik tells us at another baithak.

He owns 70 bighas and is furious at the BJP for not clearing his cane arrears. “I have offloaded sugarcane worth Rs 14 lakh at the mill but have received only Rs 40,000,” he laments. He will be voting for Harendra Malik. “If the situation continues like this for a little longer, western Uttar Pradesh will become another Maharashtra in farmer suicides,” Malik says.

Two streets ahead, we meet a group of eight people huddled into a small mechanic shop. All of them voted for RLD in 2018. Now, six are with the BJP, one with Malik and one with gathbandhan. Jogendra Malik agrees that cane arrears and stray cattle are big issues but national security is even more important.

Voting for a muslim candidate is not an option for Jats in this village as they were on the receiving end of violence during 2013 violence. “People from this village had gone for panchayat in Mandod in Muzaffarnagar and were attacked by Muslims. When Muslims got to know, they ran away from here out of fear of retaliation. There were 1,300 Muslim votes in our village. Now, there are none,” Harbir Malik tells us.

From Lisad, we travel to Lank, one of the biggest villages of Malik khap in Shamli district. Here, there were 3,000 Muslims in 2013. Today, not a single family is left.

We talk to a group of nine villagers sitting on their wooden cots, close to the tempo stand, just outside the village. All are Jats and are fiercely critical of the BJP government. A farmer in his 40s who refused to divulge his first name (but a Malik) told Swarajya that he owns 7 bighas (little more than one acre) and his payment of Rs 60,000 is pending with the mill for months now. “How do I pay school fees of my children? I don’t even have money to clear my power bill of farm. On top of it all, there is stray cattle problem. We have to be constantly on guard against them and keep vigilance even at night,” he lets it out as he launches into a passionate monologue.

“Our elders were right. BJP can never be a party of farmers,” he says. “It’s a brilliant government otherwise, I must say. But for us, it’s the worst. If they had focused on clearing the arrears, BJP wouldn’t have any need to even ask for votes,” Malik adds. He voted for the RLD in 2018 by-poll out of anger “so that the party wakes up from slumber” but the protest vote didn’t seem to have any impact. Suresh Pal, who owns 40 bighas, has cane arrears of Rs 4 lakh pending in the mill. “BJP is the worst government ever. They have shut their eyes and ears to our problems,”

Both voted for Tabassum Hasan in 2018 because she was fighting on RLD symbol. But now with SP, voting for her isn’t a choice. Most of them are leaning towards Congress’ Harendra Malik, except two. “Malik can’t win otherwise I would’ve also voted for him,” says Devendra, who is with gathbandhan.

Lokender Malik, a small farmer, who owns 6 bighas, says that payment toh aati rahegi (payment will come). If not today, tomorrow. At least the country is in safe hands with the BJP in power,” he tells us. “His both children have a job. They get monthly income. Why would they worry about cane arrears,” one farmer in the group informs. “They are just security guards, earning Rs 5,000-6,000 per month. It’s nothing,” Malik counters.

As we enter the village, after crossing a few lanes, we come across four elders engaged in casual conversation at their baithak, just next to the village bank. Two voted for the RLD in 2018. This time too, they are leaning towards gathbandhan.

“We would’ve also voted for the BJP had the party fielded Mriganka Singh. Babu Hukum Singh (her father) had good connect with Shamli. Now, they have given ticket to Pradeep Singh. He is from far off Gangoh in Saharanpur. He doesn’t know us. We don’t know him. Nor has he come here for campaigning,” says Bhanwar Singh, who will be pressing button next to cycle symbol.

“Modi is not right for farmers. Our power bills have increased. Urea prices have shot up,” he laments.

Singh says Harendra Malik is hurting the gathbandhan more as he is not taking away much of Jat votes but will definitely dent some Muslim votes, especially in Jhinjhana town.

At another baithak, where 11 people are playing cards in front of a grocery shop, mood is in favour of the BJP. Most had voted for RLD last year.

“Harendra Malik is a Congress candidate. This party doesn’t even trust our soldiers. How can one vote for him then? We voted for Tabassum en bloc due to mahagathbandhan but she hasn’t come to Shamli villages, even once after winning. BJP is the only choice we have,” says Jitendra Malik. “It’s true that more people would’ve voted for the BJP if Mriganka was a candidate. Her family has done good work here,” he adds.

Rajkumar Malik and Ravi Malik are leaning towards Harendra Malik. “Though I am a Modi supporter and want to vote for the BJP too but the candidate doesn’t have any connect in this region. Nor does Tabassum Hasan,” they reason. Both voted for RLD in 2018.

A few lanes ahead, we meet Kuldip Malik, former sarpanch of Lank. He explains why Harendra Malik is hurting the mahagathbandhan more. “If we compare the situation from last year, BJP is going to get lot of Jat votes because Tabassum is not fighting on RLD symbol this time. The core BJP supporters among Jats will anyway not vote for Malik. Now, only section that is left is hardcore, long time Lok Dal captive voters, who will cast their vote wherever Ajit Singh asks them to. But many have problem with Tabassum being a Muslim and people haven’t forgotten what happened in 2013. Only this section which hate the BJP equally might go with Malik,” he reasons. “Some local Muslim leaders in Kairana are working against her and they will cut at least 10-15,000 of her votes. In Saharanpur district areas which fall in Kairana constituency, Congress’ Imran Masood will try to chip away at gathbandhan’s Muslim vote bank,” he adds.

At another baithak, a group of nine people is smoking hookah and playing cards. “Last time we all voted for Tabassum Hasan because she was fighting on RLD’s symbol. Now, she is sitting on bicycle and we won’t ride it,” Jasbir Malik says. He is voting for the BJP. “Last time, I voted for Tabassum Hasan because her family told us that they will get all riot cases settled by convincing Muslims to take them back. Nothing of the sort happened,” says Arvind Kumar, who has a case slapped against him under IPC section 396. “I was just playing cards like I am doing now. The police came and picked me up. They didn’t even have any witness or any complainant. It’s a bogus charge. How can I vote for the same party that tormented us?”

Next village is Bhajju. Here, Jat votes are split between gathbandhan, Malik and the BJP in increasing order of support. “Gulyans are with gathbandhan and Malik, we Balyans are with the BJP,” an elder explains the divide. “Since it’s a national election, we are voting for the BJP, otherwise, we are also traditional Lok Dal supporters,” he says.

In Kudana, another Malik village, it’s ghar ghar Modi. Gathbandhan and Harendra Malik’s supporters are hard pressed to spot. Reasons are same: RLD is not contesting. Airstrikes, bringing Abhinandan back. Giving free hand to soldiers. Improvement in security environment in villages after gundagardi stopped by administration. Vote is for Modi and not the candidate, etc.

“In our village, Harendra Malik is hurting the gathbandhan more. He is getting many votes of those captive RLD supporters who would never vote for the BJP but also didn’t want to vote for Muslim candidate of the alliance,” Sanjeev Malik explains. He voted for RLD last year and is with the BJP now. Ditto for Anil Malik though he registers his protest against pending cane arrears and problem of stray cattle. “Except for farmers, the government is doing good work.”

Parvendra and Bharatveer Malik voted for RLD in 2018 and are with the BJP now. Both list same problems of farmers as listed by Anil Malik but add another one to the list: increasing rate of electricity.

In Shamli, at a car mechanic shop, seven people are discussing politics. One is Brahmin, rest are Jats. All voted for the BJP even in the by-poll last year and are vocal critic of Ajit Singh.

“Ajit Singh used to call SP a party of goons. Now, he is with them. Will we go wherever he asks us?” a retired policeman, who doesn’t wish to be identified, told Swarajya. “I know some Jats say that their identity is because of Ajit Singh but they should know that Ajit’s identity is because of Jats. Not the other way round,” he adds.

The politically incorrect retired inspector pokes fun at Tabassum Hasan changing parties frequently. “You know what is talaq and what happens if the husband wants to remarry her if he has verbally divorced the wife in misplaced anger? Halala follows. She (Tabassum Hasan) was with the SP. Akhilesh said ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’. Then she came to RLD. After staying in Ajit’s party for a few months, she went back to Akhilesh. That’s halala,” he explains the situation laced with sexist humour that would make feminists cringe.

“Barring those who know Harendra personally, no BJP votes are going to him,” says Ravi Dutt.

At the Congress campaign office, environment appears gloomy. Grassroots workers are sitting with a dejected look. For the past few days, they had been engrossed in organising a big rally where Rahul Gandhi and his sister were to speak but couldn’t come.

Hussain Ahmed, a resident of Mohalla Kajiwada of Shamli, says that Muslim voters are divided too. “In my family of 10, six are with Congress and four with the alliance.”

Mohammad Farhan, another resident of Shamli, told Swarajya that he is supporting the party because he is connected to local Congress leader Gulzar Mansoori.

Farhan Malik, an Urdu teacher and a resident of Kairana, tells this correspondent that majority of Muslims are with Congress and not with gathbandhan. His confidence seemed as fake as a Jat karyakarta, who I met at the office and who boasted that Malik is getting majority of Jat votes.

Nonetheless, Malik’s entry into Kairana fray was bound to hurt both BJP and SP. Conversations on the ground reveal that he may be doing more damage to gathbandhan than the saffron party even among Jats. In addition, if he succeeds in taking away even a few thousand Muslim votes, this may be enough to defeat the grand alliance in such a close contest.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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