In Akbarpur Chendri village of Kanth town, some 40 km from Moradabad, a small temple once painted pink has now been whitewashed, while a red flag that fluttered on an adjacent pole towering over it has been replaced with a yellow one. The locals of Akbarpur Chendri say that the violence that broke out in June 2014 over the removal of a loudspeaker from this temple would have been a distant memory had the BJP not kept the issue alive. With one Hindu and five Muslim candidates battling it out in the constituency this Assembly election, they fear tension in the days to come.
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“Ye humare adhikaro ka hanan hai. Agar abki saath nahi huye to mushkilein badhengi (This is a violation of our rights. If we are not united this time, our problems will only increase),” says 87-year-old Rajendra Kumar, who lives next to a primary school and had witnessed the violence that broke out between police and a group of “Hindus” in July 2014. Asked if any political party had come to the village for canvassing, Kumar replied, “No.”
Kanth has 3.55 lakh voters, around 51% of which are Muslims. Apart from 11% Dalits (Jatavs), the constituency also has 38% Hindu voters including Yadavs, Saini, Gujjars, Jats, Prajapatis and Kashyaps. While the constituency is set to vote on February 15, people here are confused about who to support. While the Samajwadi Party has given a ticket to the constituency’s sitting MLA Aneesur-Rehman, who had won in the last polls on a Peace Party ticket, the BSP has gone ahead with Nasir Qureshi, who came into the limelight after filing his nomination papers, in which he claimed to have property worth Rs 47 crore but just Rs 72 in his savings account. After Rehman ditched the Peace Party, the latter chose Usman Ali as its candidate.
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The AIMIM candidate, Fizaulla Chaudhary, is equally popular in Kanth. RLD’s Afaque Khan is the last among the five Muslim candidates, all of whom are seeking votes here in the name of development. BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Singh alias Chunnu, however, is singing a different tune. “The temple is important. So are our brothers. It was a bad day for Kanth. We will work so that no such incident takes place in the future. What’s wrong with that?” he asks.
On July 4, 2014, a group of close to 500 locals clashed with district administration at Kanth railway station, leaving over 20 people — including the district magistrate of Moradabad — injured. The mob ran amok for over two hours, stopped two goods trains, and pelted stones at the police. According to records, it all started in the middle of June, when some 70 Dalit families from the village wanted to install a loudspeaker atop the temple. The problem, the Muslim community had alleged, was the timing, as it was the holy period of Ramzan.
Soon after, the local BJP unit had swung into action and staged protests, allegedly causing the clash in July. “Who remembers such violence that never had any participation of common men from the area? It was all political. We live in peace. The temple is not an issue, but roads, water and employment,” said Mohammad Naeem, who supports SP because “Akhilesh gifted rickshaws and cycles to poor people”.
At the busy market of Chowk Road, people recalled how violence hit their town again on Sunday when BSP and RLD workers indulged in a scuffle, leaving several injured.
“The BSP candidate had called some actress for canvassing. He reached the venue where an RLD meeting was going on and asked his supporters to play loud music. As RLD objected, BSP men abused them. Both the groups got into a scuffle and even fired in the air, sparking tension. The situation is now under control and FIRs have been registered against both sides,” said Rajveer Singh, SHO of Kaanth police station.