BJP flags stick out of the houses in Malikpura village, with policemen standing all around it. This village was home to the two youths whose death ostensibly sparked the Muzaffarnagar riots last year. And this is where BJP candidate Bhartendra Singh, an accused in the clashes, began his campaign for Bijnore.
Singh, who is charged with hate speeches and arson, visited the families of the two youths, Gaurav and Sachin Sunday. “He met the men,” says Sachin’s mother, Maunish, and goes back to milking her buffalo. The BJP sticker on her wall has the photo of Rajendra Singh, whom Bhartendra Singh replaced as candidate on the last day of filing nominations. “Rajendra too visited us a few days ago and said he wanted to start his campaign from here but he was replaced with Bhartendra Singh.” She says it makes no difference to her.
Gaurav’s mother Suresh says Bhartendra turned up during a ritual for her elder son, Nitin. “Nitin had died in an accident four months before Gaurav was killed. When Bhartendra visited us, he knew of the paath being organised at home,” says.
A nephew of hers says, “Bhartendra Singh said that he would look after us.” They say the BJP is the only party that makes the effort to visit them.
On Monday, Bhartendra sorts out his nomination until his papers are cleared late in the day. “Yes, I met the families of Gaurav and Sachin,” he says, adding he has done so several times since he is the local MLA too.
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Asked how voters would take the fact that he is an accused, he says, “I believe a public representative should stand by his people when in distress. I will try and help my people any way I can, especially if it means providing protection from a government causing riots.”
Gaurav and Sachin were killed in Kawaal village, whose Muslim residents say the BJP has never visited them. Bhartendra denies it: “I visited Kawaal too last Sunday.”
The spark for the Jat-Muslim riots was allegedly the killing of a Muslim boy, Shahnawaz, by Gaurav and Sachin, apparently after he had harassed a relative of theirs. The two were lynched soon after. Ten days later, violence spread across the region after a Jat maha panchayat.
Shahnawaz’s father says some politicians drop by but he has stopped keeping note of which party they belong to. “They’ll forget us as soon as the elections are over.”