Kairana By-Election
         Date: 24-May-2018

-Surendra Singhal

Kairana by-election is being projected as the testing ground for the Grand Finale of 2019 General Elections. While Mriganka Singh (BJP) is campaigning on the development agendas and her father’s legacy, joint opposition parties’ candidate Tabassum Begum (RLD) seems to be troubled because of their own coherent contradictions.

 

The election campaign for the Lok Sabha by-poll in Kairana constituency is witnessing rising temperature in the western Uttar Pradesh (UP). The particular constituency includes Shamli and Saharanpur districts, which are majorly Sugarcane production belts. Since this would be the last Lok Sabha by-poll before the grand finale of 2019, it has been grabbing eye balls. Both the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the opposition parties are weighing this crucial by-poll as a testing ground for 2019 general elections.

Taking political influence into account, Kairana is a BJP stronghold. The party had won all the seats of the western UP in 2014 general elections. BJP candidate Babu Hukum Singh had defeated the Samajvadi Party (SP) candidate Nahid Hasan, and received more than fifty per cent of the vote share. The winning mode persisted in 2017 Legislative Assembly elections when BJP won four out of five seats, which included, Shamli, Thanabhawan, Gangoh and Nakur. Thakur Suresh Rana, MLA from Thanabhawan, and Dr Dharma Singh Saini, MLA from Nakur are Ministers with independent charge in the Yogi Adityanath Government. Only Kairana seat is with SP MLA Nahid Hasan.

Contours of the Contest

It seems that BJP leadership has learnt its lessons after the defeat in Phoolpur and Gorakhpur by-elections, and therefore, has been putting all its efforts to mobilise the supporters to vote effectively. The State General Secretary of the party, Sunil Bansal, has directed the party cadre to appeal and inspire the people to vote for them on May 28 by making a one-to-one contact programme. According to the regional president of the party, Ashwani Tyagi, the constituency has been classified into different sectors and every polling booth has been scrutinised effectively. He claims that the BJP is taking this by-election as a challenge and toiling hard for the fruitful results. CM Yogi Adityanath and deputy-CM Keshav Prasad Maurya will conduct only two election rallies in Saharanpur and Shamli. The strategy has laid emphasis on personal interaction and one-to-one contact programme more this time rather than organising massive rallies.

BJP candidate Mriganka Singh, daughter of Hukum Singh, whose death has led to this by-poll, is also directly in touch with the voters. She is heavily relying on the strong BJP cadre for support. Facing her is Tabassum Begum, who recently joined Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), and is certainly facing troubles caused by the absence of any effective RLD organisational base in the constituency. Even though Tabassum Begum is the candidate for the united opposition, but no effective support is visible for her from other parties like, the Congress, SP, BSP, et cetera. However, peasant leader and former member of the Planning Commission Prof Sudhir Panwar believe that the silence from the other parties is more tactical and deliberate than it seems. He claims that all the opposition parties would rally behind Tabassum.

Demography and Dividends

Kairana Lok Sabha seat has more than 16 lakh voters. It includes about five lakh Muslims, the maximum number in the collective demography of the constituency, one and a half lakh Jats, one and quarter lakh Gujjars and almost same number of Kashyaps. There are also around one lakh Sainis, seventy five thousand Brahmins, sixty five thousand Vaishyas, forty thousand Rajputs and about fifteen thousand Tyagi voters. Political analyst Anil Bansal believes that in the vote share, around 60 per cent people could side with the BJP, which leaves the opposition share to 40-42 per cent at most. Though SP has banked upon the Jat following of Ajit Singh’s RLD, it is pertinent that youth among Jats whole heartedly follow BJP.

An expert on the caste dynamics of politics and a bureau chief of a local daily, Arvind Bhardwaj, claims that both the candidates, namely, Mriganka Singh and Tabassum Begum have almost the same footing as of now among the Jats. Even though Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chowdhry have been campaigning throughout the villages, the impact of BJP leaders such as Sanjeev Baliyan, Umesh Malik (MLA, Burhana), Tejendra Nirwal (MLA, Shamli) and other Cabinet Ministers such as Dr Satyapal Tomar, Jaiprakash Tomar and Chowdhary Bhupendra Singh is more and is successfully attracting Jat voters.

Bhardwaj also adds that, “Opposition is ineffective when it comes to break the BJP stronghold in the Gujjar community. The simple reason for this is the legacy of Babu Hukum Singh, who was their most beloved leader after Chowdhary Yashpal Singh.”

Mriganka Singh seems to be getting a firm support across the caste spectrum. BJP has a strong influence among the Scheduled Castes and OBCs in the region. They are supporting the party unanimously and so are the other castes. The upper castes are also consolidated in BJP’s favour and opposition has failed to corrode their support base for the party.

Mriganka Singh seems very confident and believes that she is caimpaiging on the developmental issues and reminding people of the services her father rendered to them for so long. She claims that Hindu exodus for the Kairana has stopped. She informs that the business and trading class is feeling more empowered now with the improved conditions of the law and order and now they are flourishing.

Opposition’s Dilemma

Tabassum Begum believes that opposition unity is strong and it would uproot the BJP. She claims to have been garnering the support from all the sections, including Muslims, Dalits and Jats. She entrusts that the distance which segmented between the Jats and Muslims after the Muzzaffarnagar Riots (2013) would give space to proximity with this by-election. However, she has no answers to the charges allege by her brother-in-law and Lok Dal candidate Kanwar Hasan that she and her son were involved in stroking fire and rallying Muslims against Jats amidst riots in 2013.

According to Bhardwaj, “Tabassum is a candidate who has been imposed by Akhilesh Yadav. Ajit Singh and Jayant Chowdhary were up for former MP Amir Ali. Earlier, Akhilesh wanted Jayant Chowdhary to contest the by-poll who didn’t wish to contest for a short period office.” Ultimately Tabassum cropped up as a compromise. She reflects the compulsions of the opposition, and certainly, not their unity and zeal.

Former MLA of Saharanpur and State vice-president of the Congresss Imran Masud is also not supporting Tabassum. The reason for this cold shoulder is that Tabassum and Nahid Hasan had opposed the candidacy of Imran Maud’s brother from the Gangoh seat for Legislative Assembly, and he had lost the election.

Saharanpur’s Joint Traders’ Association President, Mohammad Aslam Saifi suggests that extreme heat and compulsions of Roja in the month of Ramzan is logically going to result in the lesser participation of the Muslim voters. He informs that the business and trading class is very much satisfied with the Yogi Government’s steps to exterminate and minimise the crime in the State. He believes that even sections of Muslims would also vote for BJP due to this move.

It looks like the BJP would leave no stone unturned to sway the results in their favour. The losses of Gorakhpur and Phoolpur have not been forgotten and lessons have been learnt. With an energetic candidate in the field and with an opposition crumbling down in its own contradictions, Kairana by-election is going to be a real testing ground.