Close to seven months after riots broke out between Jats and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in which more than 60 people were killed, the BJP has given Lok Sabha tickets to two leaders who face charges linked to the violence.
Hukum Singh and Sanjeev Baliyan, declared candidates by the party in the riot-hit areas of Kairana and Muzaffarnagar respectively, were part of a mahapanchayat in September which was held despite prohibitory orders and inflamed tensions.
Opinion in Muzaffarnagar is divided over the two getting tickets, with Muslims staunchly against the move.
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At the Malakpur relief camp which still houses 380 riot-hit Muslim families, several said that the move only reinforced the notion that the BJP wanted to gain from the riots.
“That party has a history of promoting communal violence for political gain. Their leaders fanned tensions between the communities in a place where we had always lived in peace. Now by giving these two tickets, they want the Hindu vote to come to them. We will refuse to vote, but will not cast a ballot for the BJP,” said Mohammad Ashraf, who lives in the camp.
Several Jats The Indian Express spoke to, however, said it was the BJP that would gain most in the area.
“Forget about the riots, this region needs development and a strong leader. The law and order situation is not good, and there has to be a change. Even if the two leaders have been charged, the vote here is for Narendra Modi. If there is development, then there will be no communal tension,” said Ramesh Pradhan of Haraula village.
Asked if the BJP had polarised the electorate, Pradhan said: “It doesn’t matter. These are national elections and you vote for a national leader and that man is Narendra Modi,” he said.
In his campaign that started two days back, Baliyan has avoided talking about the riots at length in public, local BJP members said.
On Wednesday, speaking to a group of a 100 people, Baliyan said: “We have to win this seat to contribute to Narendra Modi’s victory. After 10 years, this country needs a change and we have to win.”
“Muzaffarnagar is being watched by the country, second only to Varanasi. And we have to deliver,” was his only reference to the riots.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Baliyan said, “Muzaffarnagar has to move forward from the riots. For all communities, it is good if the BJP comes to power.”
Senior police officers said a special investigation committee is looking at charges against the two BJP leaders. “At the mahapanchayat, where inflammatory speeches were made, both were present on the dais. Along with other leaders, they were charged with violating prohibitory orders, and promoting enmity between communities,” a senior police officer said.
Those in relief camps, however, also said there has been no attempt made to involve them in the electoral process.
“We will not go back to our village to vote, it is too dangerous. Nobody from the government has come to tell us if we can vote from where we are. Political parties too have forgotten about us,” said Rashid Ali, originally from Kutba, one of the villages which saw the most violence.
“The only aid we get is from Muslim organisations. This time, our vote is for survival. We have no place to go, and no roof over our heads. Any party that comes to us and says we will help you, we will vote for. The sad part is, with a month to go for elections, not one party has even come and asked us about our plight,” he added.
BSP MP, booked for hate speech, also files papers
Sitting BSP MP from Muzaffarnagar, Kadir Rana, also filed his nomination from the seat on Wednesday, with his wife filing nomination papers as an independent candidate. Rana was also booked for a hate speech in the run-up to the riots. Rana was with the Samajwadi Party until 2007, switched to the Rashtriya Lok Dal, but fought the 2009 elections on a BSP ticket.