As Bilari gets ready to vote in the Assembly bypoll Monday, all eyes are on the way the BJP will fare in this election. For the first time in over two decades, people of Bilari underline the probable victory of a non-Muslim candidate this time. In the constituency, Muslims constitute over 1 lakh votes, nearly 30 per cent of the total 3.41 lakh votes.
What makes the BJP hopeful of winning this Assembly seat in Moradabad is not the usual attempt to polarise the voters through campaign speeches, but the perception that in the absence of a better alternative, the saffron party could be a favoured choice even in Muslim-dominated seats.
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Earlier this year, bypolls in Muzaffarnagar and Deoband had seen inflammatory speeches by BJP leaders. In Bilari too, the BJP had deployed for campaigning Union Minister Sanjiv Balyan and Thana Bhavan MLA Suresh Rana, both leaders who faced accusations in cases related to 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. But Bilari remained quiet.
“There isn’t any attempt to polarise voters on religious grounds here,” both major candidates Mohammad Fahim (SP) and Suresh Saini (BJP) say.
Residents of several Muslim localities, who are believed to be staunch SP supporters, agree.
“We don’t see BJP trying to disturb harmony here. Jo sach hai, wo sach hai (That’s a fact),” says Mohammad Rizwan, a contractor from Hathipur village.
Mohammad Ali of Istikhar Kirana Store in Bilari agrees. “The atmosphere is good here. I don’t see any tension.” he says.
SP member Maulana Aslam Barelvi adds: “We have not heard of any inflammatory speech here.”
However, all this doesn’t rule out voting on religious grounds. Meanwhile, despite the Congress candidate, Shishupal Singh Jatav, being from the Scheduled Castes community, people say that even the Jatav votes might shift to the BJP.
“If the BJP hopes to break into this (Muslim) zone, it’s because Hindus believe that if no one is around, it’s safe to move towards BJP,” says SP member Ashok Chaudhary.
The vacuum is created by the fact that the BSP is not contesting, and the Congress candidate is considered weak. In what then looks like a direct contest between the SP and the BJP, the latter has a strong edge. The seat had fallen vacant after sitting Samajwadi Party MLA Hazi Irfan died in a road accident. But over the years, SP seems to have lost favour on the ground.
A 25-year-old farmer from Bachal Ghud village, Mohammad Qayum, says: “For the first time in several decades, a non-Muslim might win here.”
He also adds that for the first time he and his friends will vote for a BJP candidate.
The situation to some seems similar to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when after initial opposition from the Muslim community many voters had quietly shifted towards the BJP when it looked like the probable winner.
However, seated in a SUV outside his election office in Bilari, SP candidate Fahim is banking on sympathy vote to do the trick for him. He calls it “gami ka election (an election of mourning)”.
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“My dream was to see Bilari seat become vacant after my father’s (Hazi Irfan) election to the Lok Sabha. I would have then contested the bypoll,” says the youth, invoking his father’s death with almost every sentence.