For the ruling BJP as well as a newly united Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, the next electoral test comes in Kairana, the Lok Sabha seat represented by late BJP MP Hukum Singh. Both sides are assessing how they are placed for the upcoming byelection, for which the Election Commission is yet to announce a date.
For the BJP, which lost recent bypolls to two symbolically significant Lok Sabha seats before hitting back by blocking the BSP from a Rajya Sabha seat, the likely planks are the government’s move towards withdrawal of cases involving communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts in 2013, the alleged exodus of Hindus in the last several years, and the killing of criminals in recent police encounters.
“The exodus of people from Kairana and adjoining areas has stopped during the one-year rule of the Yogi Adityanath government. Development of the agriculture sector in the region, and the pro-farmer and pro-poor image of late Hukum Singh, will help the BJP win the byelection,” BJP spokesperson Chandramohan said.
For the Opposition, the thrust is on carrying forward the SP-BSP partnership that brought the SP victory in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. “The top leadership of the SP and the BSP has yet not made any remark specifically for Kairana, but it is certain that both parties will contnue the coordination in the bypoll,” SP spokesperson Anil Yadav said.
“People of the region are upset with the Yogi Adityanath government’s initiative to process the withdrawal of riots cases. The BJP may highlight these riot cases but the SP will contest on the agenda of development that the Akhilesh Yadav government had carried out in western UP,” Yadav said.
One lesson the BJP has taken from the recent bypoll defeats is the need to ensure that its dedicated voters turn out in Kairana. Voting in Gorakhpur and Phulpur was marked by low turnouts, particularly in Gorakhpur Urban and Phulpur’s Allahabad, which are considered BJP strongholds but where the party ended up polling fewer votes than in 2014. The BJP has identified the absence of dedicated voters at the booth, besides the “overconfidence of party leaders”, as the major reasons for the twin defeats.
Trends from the last two elections in Kairana reflect the larger trend across Uttar Pradesh. Kairana is among the 73 Lok Sabha seats the NDA won in 2014, out of 80 in the state. Hukum Singh polled 5.65 lakh votes while Muslim candidates fielded by the SP and the BSP got, respectively, 3.29 lakh and 1.60 lakh votes. Even if these votes were combined, the two Opposition parties would have been behind the BJP total.
The Assembly elections in 2017, however, showed that the votes polled by the divided Opposition, when combined, exceeded those polled by the NDA in most seats. On March 16, The Indian Express reported that the votes polled by the SP and the BSP in 2017, if combined and projected to 2019, would put the SP-BSP combine ahead of the NDA in 57 seats. That would leave the NDA with only 23 seats, 50 behind its 2014 tally.
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In Kairana Lok Sabha seat, which has five segments — Nakur, Gangoh,Thana Bhawan, Shamli and Kairana (Assembly) — the BJP won the first four in 2017, while the SP won the fifth. The SP and the Congress contested in alliance, the BSP separately, but both the SP and the Congress contested in one of these Assembly seats, Gangoh. If the votes polled by the SP/Congress and the BSP in the five segments were pooled — counting the SP votes in Gangoh but omitting the Congress votes — they would add up to 4.98 lakh, well ahead of BJP’s 4.32 lakh votes in the five segments combined.
Kairana Lok Sabha seat has around 17 lakh voters, including around 3 lakh Muslims, 4 lakh backward classes (Jat, Gujjar, Saini, Kashyap, Prajapati and others) and about 1.5 lakh Jatav Dalits, the traditional vote-bank of the BSP. There are very few Yadav voters, the SP’s traditional bank. The Dalits, therefore, are key: in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the BSP is seen as having transferred these votes to the SPs.
“Because the BSP is unlikely to field a candidate in the bypoll, the BJP will try to woo Dalits. Also, if the SP fields a Muslim candidate because of the community’s population, Jat voters could prefer another candidate. Relations between Jats and Muslims are yet to recover after the 2013 riots,” said a BJP leader.
The 2013 riots had affected three of the segments — Kairana, Shamli and Thana Bhawan. “The initiative by the BJP government to withdraw these cases could polarise all backward classes and upper castes in favour of the BJP. Most of these cases were lodged for political reasons,” a BJP leader said. The killing of criminals in police encounters in western UP, he claimed, has sent out a message about the BJP government’s commitment to people’s security and the prevention of an exodus from the region.
Two years ago, Hukum Singh had alleged that 346 Hindu families had been forced to migrate out of Kairana town due to atrocities by “one particular community”. The BJP included the issue in its election manifesto for 2017, promising to release a white paper and set up a department in every district to prevent an “exodus”.
The Kairana Lok Sabha seat has changed hands over the years. The SP won in 1996, the BJP in 1998, the RLD in 1999 and 2004, and the BSP in 2009, before the BJP came back in 2014.