With the JD(S) and the Congress joining hands to keep the BJP out of power in Karnataka, all eyes are now on Uttar Pradesh where bypolls for the Kairana Lok Sabha seat and Noorpur assembly seat are slated to be held on May 28. The bypolls hold much importance for the ruling BJP after the recent drubbing in the Gorakhpur and Phoolpur bypolls where arch rivals Samajwadi Party tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party to defeat the saffron party.
Moreover, after a show of strength by a united Opposition during the HD Kumaraswamy swearing-in in Karnataka, the BJP must have felt the pinch, and a defeat in Kairana and Noorpur will make it obvious that regional parties together can combat the ‘invincible’ BJP in the 2019 general elections. Unlike in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the Congress has joined hands with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in a bid to deal another blow to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats.
Kairana hit the national headlines before the 2017 UP assembly elections after the local MP Hukum Singh raised the issue of Hindu exodus from the area. The bypoll in the seat has been necessitated following the death of Hukum Singh.
To cash in on the sympathy wave towards Hukum Singh’s family, the BJP has fielded his daughter Mriganka in Kairana. But RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan, who has the support of the BSP, SP and Congress, seemed confident too. Hasan’s candidature got a boost on Thursday after Lok Dal candidate Kanwar Hasan joined the Rashtriya Lok Dal at a meeting held in Kairana in the presence of Jayant Chaudhary, the national vice-president of RLD.
“Now, there is no contest left in the bye-election. We are going to win with a huge margin in the range of 3-4 lakh votes,” RLD chief Masood Ahmad said.
On being asked about the issue of Hindu exodus, the candidates aired divergent views. “The exodus of Hindu families from Kairana has stopped,” said Mriganka. “Before the 2017 UP Assembly elections, hundreds of Hindu families had fled from Kairana out of fear and harassment. However, after the BJP government under Yogi Adityanath was formed, the law and order scenario in the region has improved,” she added.
Tabassum Hasan, however, outrightly rejected the reports of Hindu exodus from the area. “There was no exodus from Kairana in the first place. Both Hindus and Muslims have been living here in harmony for generations. The exodus issue was flagged only to divert attention from important issues, to add a communal colour to the elections and divide voters,” she said.
Talking to indianexpress.com about his decision to withdraw his candidature, Hasan said, “The basic reason behind my decision to withdraw is to defeat BJP. If I would have contested the election, BJP might have won. And I don’t want communal forces like BJP to get stronger.” Kanwar would have divided the Muslim votes, which form the major chunk of voters in Kairana, and thereby, would have weakened the united opposition candidate.
“Till yesterday, the BJP was in a strong position. There was a division of Muslim votes which would have taken place had I contested. And it appeared to me that BJP might win because of our internal family feud. And it would have sent a very wrong message in the entire nation. That’s why I decided to support Tabassum Hasan,” said Kanwar.
Mriganka, however, seems unaffected by Thursday’s development and exuded confidence. “The preparations are going all good and we are 100 per cent confident of winning the bypoll,” she said.
The Kairana Lok Sabha seat has some 16 lakh voters, which includes an estimated 5.5 lakh Muslims and 1.5 lakh Jats. That, plus 2.5 lakh Dalits (mostly Jatavs, who traditionally vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP), makes for a formidable combination on paper favouring the RLD candidate.
The BJP candidate expressed confidence that Muslim voters will vote for development which has taken place in BJP’s rule, both at the Centre and the states. “BJP will get the support of Muslim voters. Definitely, a significant number of them would vote for development which is taking place in BJP’s governance, be it state or Centre. And people are going to support Modi ji,” Mriganka told indianexpress.com. She added that results of the Karnataka elections will not have any impact on the UP bypolls.
However, it is not just the Muslim vote which the ruling BJP has to worry about. Convincing the angry sugarcane farmers remains a big concern for the ruling party. The farmers are losing patience over the delay in payment by the sugar mill owners.
Kairana constituency has six sugar mills. In the current 2017-18 season (October-September), the six mills have, as on May 18, bought sugarcane worth Rs 1,778.49 crore at the UP government’s State Advised Price (SAP) of Rs 315-325 per quintal. Of this, they were to pay Rs 1,695.25 crore within 14 days of purchase but have so far disbursed just Rs 888.03 crore. That translates into Rs 807.22 crore in arrears – for a single constituency.
Asked about the farmers’ concern, Mriganka said the situation has improved. “The chief minister himself has taken a lot of interest in the issue. And he has himself addressed their grievances. And this problem arose because there was a bump in the production of sugarcane and the output was I think three times over. So, it was beyond capacity. But the payment that has been released is already more than what was happening in the previous years. And whatever payment is left, we updated it very soon. The farmers are with us,” said Mriganka.
(With inputs from ENS)