The result of the bypoll for the Kairana Lok Sabha seat Thursday sent a second reminder in less than three months to the ruling BJP, after its defeat in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in March, that a united Opposition that includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh is a political force to reckon with.
“This is a vote for Opposition unity,” Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader and former Lok Sabha member Jayant Chaudhary told The Indian Express after the results were declared. Backed by the Congress, SP and BSP, his party candidate Tabassum Hasan won by about 45,000 votes.
This is significant for several reasons.
For one, it reaffirms RLD’s electoral utility in the Opposition’s matrix. It has presence in over 10 Lok Sabha constituencies in western UP: Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras, Baghpat, Kairana, Bijnore, Ghaziabad, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar. A pooling of their votes polled during previous Assembly elections suggests that a united Opposition will win a majority of seats in this region.
Second, the victory comes in the backdrop of five years of social strife in western UP where today’s winner, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, whose electoral bastion is the peasant Jat community, was trounced in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly elections in the state.
The 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, strained the symbiotic community relationship between Jat and Muslim communities in western UP considered the RLD’s backyard.
The BJP tapped into this polarised atmosphere to wrest all seats in western UP in the 2014 elections. So deep was the divide that the RLD leadership of veteran Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary were defeated at the hands of the BJP in 2014.
Three years later, in the final lap of the 2017 Assembly elections, the RLD did try to regroup the Jat community but other than giving BJP a scare, could make little impact.
The RLD was trounced again as the BJP swept the region after it rallied the Jat community by stoking fears of a return of what it called the “pro-Muslim” SP.
This time, too, the Muzaffarnagar riots was a refrain in the BJP leaders’ campaign speeches. That’s why today’s victory of a Muslim candidate with the help of Jat voters of the RLD is significant.
Tabassum, in fact, is not a quintessential RLD leader. She joined the RLD just on the eve of this bypoll from SP. Earlier, she had been Lok Sabha MP from the BSP. Her late husband started his political career with Janata Dal and then moved to SP. Despite this political background, the RLD support-base rallying behind its new entrant along with SP and BSP supporters underlines a grassroots-level acceptability for a united Opposition front in the region.
“It definitely indicates healing of the social strain. People (Jats and Muslims) have voted together. The proof lies in the pudding of victory,” Chaudhary said adding how he held 145 meetings in the last 10-day dash and focused on healing the scars of the riots.
“The entire thrust of our campaign was to convince our people to not let us be branded as people living in hatred and tension. Bhaichare ka naara diya tha,” Chaudhary said.
His father met Jat leaders in small groups to persuade them to bury differences that had flared up during the violence five years ago.
Tabassum’s victory over BJP candidate Mriganka Singh may force the BJP to rework its strategy for 2019 for western UP.
The bypoll was held because of the death of BJP MP Hukum Singh who, in 2016, had raised the issues of alleged migration of Hindus from Kairana. The BJP had made that part of its election manifesto in the 2017 Assembly polls. The BJP fielded his daughter Mriganka Singh.
The Kairana Lok Sabha constituency has nearly 5.5 lakh Muslim votes and 1.5 lakh Jat. Leaders of both RLD and BJP admitted that Jats had voted in large numbers for Tabassum Begum who got 4.81 lakh votes while her BJP rival got 4.36 lakh.
“The BJP tried to revive memories of riots through speeches of its leaders to get votes on religious lines. But Jats decided to vote RLD to teach a lesson to BJP for not keeping its promises and to revive RLD because it is the party of Chaudhary Charan SIngh,” said 67-year-old Bhupinder Singh, a Jat in Lisarh village that is dominated by Jats.
Said Maqbool Hasan in Kairana: “There was a wave for change in 2014. Then Jats voted for BJP on religious lines and Muslim voted to non-BJP candidates. Our division helped BJP win. But this time Tabassum was the strongest candidate against the BJP and she had the support of SP and BSP along with the Congress. So I voted for her. This is an election for just a few months but this election has given a message to BJP,” he said.
Said Tabassum Begum: “Dange ki khai bhar gai hai aur ab doori nahi hai” (the divide over the riots has healed).
She said that BJP leaders kept raising the issue of riots but Jats and Muslims buried their differences to support the Opposition alliance.
Said RLD western UP region secretary Vinod Rana: “UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath tried to attract Jats by taking the name of Sachin and Gaurav in election speech again and again. Can he tell what the BJP government has done for family of Sachin and Gaurav? Jats have understood BJP’s policy.”
Sachin and Gaurav were allegedly killed in Muzaffarnagar, an incident that is considered to be the first spark for the riots.
To attract youths, the BJP had fielded a number of Jat leaders including Union Minister Satyapal Singh, former minister Sanjeev Balyan, Shamli MLA Tejendra Nirwal, Gangoh MLA Pradeep Chaudhary, ex-RLD MLA Sohendra Sing Ramala, Budhana MLA Umesh Mallik, cabinet minister Laxmi Nayaran Chaudhary and another minister Bhupendra Chaudhary.
The BJP also invoked Charan Singh in election meetings. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addressed two rallies there.
For SP, BSP, RLD and Congress, Kairana has revived hopes for the big fight ahead. That these parties did not indulge in any kind of public spat over the ticket/candidate reflected a high level of Opposition coordination. “There are enough mature heads to work this (seat/candidate sharing) out for 2019. The bypolls results in UP not only provide momentum but also give us a reason to stay together for 2019,” said Jayant Chaudhary.