Monday’s vote for the vacant Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh will test the potential of a united opposition in the state that the BJP swept in 2014 and 2017. The Lok Sabha byelection in Kairana — and the Assembly byelection in Noorpur in Bijnor district, which too, is scheduled for Monday — is a prestige battle for the BJP after the defeats at the hands of the SP-BSP alliance in the Lok Sabha bypolls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in March.
In Kairana, Tabassum Begum of Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is contesting against the BJP’s Mriganka Singh, the daughter of the late BJP leader Hukum Singh, whose death in February has necessitated the byelection. Tabassum Begum has the support of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress.
In Noorpur, SP’s Naim-ul-Hasan is contesting against the BJP’s Avnish Singh, wife of Lokendra Singh Chauhan, the BJP MLA from the seat who was killed in a road accident some weeks ago. The SP nominee has the backing of the RLD and Congress.
Three other Lok Sabha byelections — for the Palghar and Bhandara-Gondiya seats in Maharashtra, and the lone seat in Nagaland — and byelections for a clutch of Assembly seats in states across the country are also scheduled for Monday.
Jat and Dalit votes are likely to be decisive in Kairana. The BSP, which has a hold on nearly 1.5 lakh Jatav votes out of the constituency’s total 2.5 lakh Dalit votes, has not sent any message to its base. A senior BSP leader who attended a meeting with party chief Mayawati in Lucknow on Saturday said, “Behenji has asked us to work to defeat the BJP. But she has not asked us to support any particular candidate. Hence, no directive has been given to party cadres, and supporters are free to choose the candidate they want to support.”
In Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the BSP had appealed to the voters and workers to support the SP candidate.
Of Kairana’s 16 lakh voters, nearly 5.5 lakh are Muslim. Jats and Gujjars have about 1.5 lakh votes each. A large section of Gujjars, Kashyaps, Vaishyas, and Saini voters support the BJP. But it is the Jat vote that is going to be significant.
After the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, Jats moved away from the RLD, and supported the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections of the following year. This time, RLD chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary have visited nearly every village to ask for votes on famers’ issues. The RLD has no MP currently, and its lone MLA in UP joined the BJP recently after being expelled for cross-voting in the BJP’s favour in the Rajya Sabha elections. “This is not about the existence of the party, it is a fight for the existence of farmers,” Jayant Chaudhary said.
The BJP has raised issues like the Muzaffarnagar riots and the alleged exodus of Hindus from the region during the campaign. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addressed two rallies in Kairana, and recalled Jat youths Sachin and Gaurav who were allegedly killed before the riots. Over a dozen ministers of the state and central governments and many MPs and MLAs have campaigned in Kairana.
Even though the SP is supporting Tabassum Begum, party president Akhilesh Yadav did not campaign for her. The RLD has got support from the Lok Dal nominee Kanwar Hasan, who joined the RLD last week and extended support to his sister-in-law, Tabassum, claiming he wanted to prevent the division of Muslim votes.
Tabassum is the wife of ex-MP Munawwar Hasan, who appears in her campaign pictures.
The BJP is banking on sympathy votes in both Kairana and Noorpur. In Noorpur, candidate Avnish brought her son on the stage when Adityanath addressed a rally there last week. There are about 3 lakh voters in Noorpur.
Polling will be held in 2,056 booths, of which 184 have been identified for monitoring through webcasting. Votes will be counted on May 31.