The BJP strategy in Saharanpur, it seems, is to use Congress candidate Imran Masood’s alleged anti-Narendra Modi remarks in 2014 to split Muslim votes between Masood and the BSP’s Haji Fazlur Rehman, the BSP-SP-RLD alliance’s candidate, in order to retain the seat, according to local BJP leaders.
On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a rally in the western UP constituency, repeatedly referred to Masood’s remarks, allegedly threatening to chop Modi into pieces — unusual for the Prime Minister to pick on a small leader, BJP leaders point out.
At the rally, BJP candidate from the seat, Raghav Lakhanpal, compared Masood with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, and later Suresh Rana, a state minister, repeated Lakhanpal’s remark.
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Earlier, on March 24, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had referred to the Congress candidate as terrorist Masood Azhar’s son-in-law.
All this, local BJP leaders maintained, is part the strategy to divide Muslim votes.
A BJP leader associated with the party’s poll management in Saharanpur said, “Imran Masood does not have the stature for the PM to target him, but PM Modi did just that. Such statements will divide votes of Muslims, who are the largest group of voters in this constituency, followed by Dalits.”
Modi’s remarks came just two days before SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, BSP’s Mayawati and RLD’s Ajit Singh hold their first joint rally in Deoband Assembly segment of Saharanpur constituency on Sunday.
Nawab Pradhan, a local BSP leader looking after preparations for Sunday’s rally, said, “Modi, Yogi and other BJP leaders are making such remarks to project Masood as a strong candidate against the BJP. This is to influence Muslim voters, who supports any candidate who appears to be in a position to defeat the BJP.” Pradhan told The Sunday Express, “BSP’s Haji Fazlur Rehman is a very strong candidate. He will get back support of Dalit voters who had gone with BJP in 2014. Due to RLD’s support, he will also get Jat votes.” Calling Rehman a stronger candidate compared to Masood, Pradhan said that is why the BJP is “trying to project Masood as the strongest anti-BJP Muslim leader here”.
Congress leaders, however, point out that Masood had given Lakhanpal a scare in 2014 — the BJP nominee finally romped home by a margin of just over 65,000 votes, with Masood getting 4.07 lakh votes, against Jagdish Singh Rana’s (BSP) 2.35 lakh and about 52,000 votes for SP’s Sazan Masood.
Saifi, a sugarcane farmer in Saharanpur Assembly segment, said Masood could have won easily had the BSP not fielded another Muslim. “If Muslim votes get divided, it is advantage BJP,” he said. While stressing that there has been no development work in the district in the last five years, Saifi also sounded cautious about NYAY, the Congress’s minimum income guarantee scheme. “Modi had also promised Rs 15 lakh. What happened to that? I will decide after seeing the crowd in the SP-BSP-RLD rally, and the chemistry between the leaders of these parties,” he said.