Friday’s murder of a 17-year-old Jat boy in a village in Bijnor may polarise the seven Assembly constituencies in the district and the larger area which will vote in the second phase of elections in Uttar Pradesh on February 15. A group of eight Muslims is alleged to have attacked Vishal Singh and his father. One of the accused has been arrested. The murder figured prominently in speeches by BSP candidates of the seven constituencies Saturday, as well as in Mayawati’s speech. The incident came five months after an alleged incident of eve-teasing had led to the death of three Muslims here in September. Most of those accused in Friday’s incident are relatives of those Muslims killed, also eyewitnesses in that case.
The murder appears to be another chapter in the area’s Jat-Muslim fight conflict. Most of the disputes are sparked by alleged harassment of girls by either Jat or Muslim boys, depending on whom you ask. While the BJP candidate from Bijnor is Suchi Chowdhary, the wife of one of the accused in the September killing of Muslims, the BSP has fielded a Muslim, Rashid Ahmad.
On Saturday, as voting in the neighbouring districts of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar commenced and followers of the BSP gathered for Mayawati’s rally at a ground in the town, Suchi joined Jat protesters in blocking one of the main intersections. The RLD’s Bijnor candidate Rahul Singh also joined the agitation.
Pushpendu Agarwal, who runs a daily-needs shop near the rally ground, said the entire political calculation in the area had shifted because of the murder. According to him, incumbent MLA Ruchi Vira of the Samajwadi Party, “who has done a lot of work in the constituency”, could have won. “But not anymore.”
BSP Dhampur candidate Muhammad Ghazi said in his speech that he was confident those who murdered Vishal were members of the BJP. “Aur naam diya gaya humaare logon ka, ki katl humne kiya hai (And our people were blamed, it was said we had committed the murder),” Ghazi said.
Mayawati promised that she would not only send to jail the perpetrators of both the crimes, of February 10 and September 16, but also ensure that the “shadyantrakaari” or the masterminds are not spared. A local at the rally, Abdul Wajid, said he might have voted for the SP earlier, but now would vote for the BSP as the SP and BJP were two sides of the same coin and could further vitiate the atmosphere.
Which party stands to gain most from the polarisation remains to be seen. At the Jat protests on Saturday, some carried the BJP’s flag. But the protesters did not allow any political speeches there.