Uttar Pradesh is testing Hindu-Muslim divide and limit of personal jibes

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As the elections in UP are getting closer to the finish line, the war of words is getting more and more personal with Bahujan Samaj Party getting a new name – Behnji Sampatti Party and Akhilesh Yadav making nasty remarks about Gujarat’s wildlife.

The respectable faces campaigning for their party are leaving no stone unturned in making jibes at the other, often drawing scorn from the very people they are trying to win over.

Re-play the past election tapes and the 17th Vidhan Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh, and you will find plenty of similarity. Despite Supreme Court’s warning that votes cannot be asked on religious lines, the politicians are once again busy doing what they do the best-polarising caste loyalties and religious sentiments. Every political party in Uttar Pradesh is polarising the votes camouflaged by a secularist coat.

Gone are the speeches promising a brighter future to the farmers. The issue of delayed payment, power shortages, crumbling roads, low prices has been side-lined by the need to have boundaries for kabristan and shamshan.

UP has a sizable Muslim population. While BSP, SP and Congress are courting the minority population, BJP is staying clear. Holding on to its past record, BJP has not fielded a single Muslim candidate. On the contrary, it has fielded quite a few controversial candidates.

Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, contesting from Sardhana and Thana Bhawan respectively, have been accused of fuelling the 2013 Muzaffarnagr riots which left 62 people dead and thousands homeless.

Sangeet Som had uploaded a ‘fake’ video which reportedly sparked communal tension and Suresh Rana had allegedly given hate speeches.

Four years later, both are poster boys for the BJP. Sangeet Som is the BJP’s “face of Hindu identity in UP”, as the banners in his constituency display. His recent speeches are clearly along the old lines, indirectly asking to vote against his Muslim opponent from the BSP, Imran Qureshi.

Som says he is not polarising the voters but what does one make of the statement made to a Hindu gathering that ‘If you elect a person like Imran Qureshi..…….. you will not be able to enter Sardhana.’

The Ram Mandir issue is also referred time and again to keep the Hindutva vote bank glued in. BJP firebrand leaders like Yogi Adityanath consider ‘love jihad’ and the alleged exodus of Hindus from Kairana crucial issues for the party. The party seems to have given up on Muslims.

Out of its 11 crore members. BJP could not field even a single Muslim candidate. Like an adroit player, BJP is repeating its 2014 master stroke. Polarisation of the Hindu votes gave a landslide victory to the party in UP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

This time too, Amit Shah wants to deliver the state to BJP and is playing the communal card by stoking Muslim fears.

Narenedra Modi, BJP’s star campaigner, has very heavy responsibility on his shoulders, which he should carry while maintaining the dignity of the Prime Minister’s office. In 2016, he spoke out like a true secular leader. While addressing a BJP national council meeting in Kozhikode, he said, “Do not rebuke Muslims……Empower them. They are not items of vote market nor are they substance of hate. Treat them as your own.”

Rightly so, but then why is the saffron party keen on squeezing the minorities into its scheme of things which tells a very different tale. The PM, during a speech in Fatehpur said, “Ramzan me bijli aati hai, toh Diwali me bhi aani chahiye; bhedbhav nahi hona chahiye (when electricity is available on Ramzan, then its supply should be ensured during Diwali as well. There shouldn’t be any discrimination.”

He added: “If there is a kabaristaan, there should be shamshaan too.” Modi’s polarizing remarks are not new. He has been making such statements before every election.
The main challengers for the Muslim votes, BSP, SP-Congress alliance, are trying to check extreme polarisation of Hindus in BJP’s favour. These parties have been devising actions to appease the Hindus.

Post Muzaffarnagar riots, BSP has emerged as the strongest contender of Muslim votes. The party is treading the path carefully and raising issues related to Muslims gradually. Mayawati is not very vocal in criticising the Hindutva politics but a few leaders from her party like Nasimuddin Siddiqui have been attending Muslim programmes.

A few months ahead of the Assembly polls, BSP MLA Ramashankar Singh of Ballia took about 5000 Hindu followers for a holy dip in Sinhastha Kumbh at Ujjain. The main idea was to be seen as a pro-Hindu party.

SP too is trying to build its vote base along the religious lines. Party MLAs took Hindus on a pilgrimage under its policy, Shravan Teerth Yojana. The SP leaders and MLAs are providing financial assistance for the sculpting of idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Akhilesh has passed a proposal to build a Ram Mandir amusement park near Ayodhya.

While Mayawati is not polarising Muslim votes openly, Mulayam Singh Yadav does not believe in playing subtle. When the cycle was intact, Mulayam Singh Yadav reached out to Samajwadi Party’s Muslim vote base and asked them to support his CM son.

While launching SP’s campaign for the Assembly polls in November 2016, Mulayam Singh said, “BJP was in power when Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. Musalman bhaiyon ne gussa hokar Samajwadi Party ki sarkar bana di. Kam se kam 70 per cent Musalmano ne vote diya (Angry Muslims helped SP form the government. At least 70 per cent of the Muslims voted for us.”

Congress recently appointed Imran Massod as its vice-president. By doing so it mobilised its Muslim support base. The party is indulging in soft tactics and not making any controversial remark. Countering BJP’s polarising agenda, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad demanded that the Supreme Court and EC take note of the BJP’s mention of the Ram temple and triple talaq in its manifesto.

Every term, the Uttar Pradesh elections are held amid controversy and chaos. Undoubtedly, the stakes are very high for the BJP. The Modi government is facing the first election after demonetisation of currency notes. Out of the five states (Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur) going to poll this year, UP is the biggest and the outcome of the elections will, to a great extent, give people’s verdict on demonetisation.

If BJP wins UP, it would not only make the course clear in the other four states but also give a stamp of approval over the head-on policies of Modi. On the other hand, if BJP doesn’t, not only will the ripples of defeat be felt all across the nation, it will be a huge blow to the Modi wave and to Amit Shah’s plans for 2019.

In the 2014 general elections, BJP’s strongest performance came from UP. The party won 72 out of 80 seats, registering a growth of 700% over the 10 seats it got in 2009.

BJP’s loss would mean a victory for either of its two rivals – the SP-Congress alliance or the BSP. A victory for SP and Akhilesh will showcase the faith of the electorate in his leadership qualities. Having won the family tug-of-war, Akhilesh has shown that he has the capability to tread the treacherous by-lanes of national politics.

Congress, the other part of the alliance, is what it is – a supporting actor with a small script, having no significant role to play. But as with any role, no matter how big or small, every character has the opportunity to shine through. And for Congress, which has been out of UP for a long time, a joint win will be a breather.

BSP, with a poor performance in the 2012 assembly elections and 2014 general elections, seems to be lagging behind in the race. Party supremo Mayawati is banking on BJP’s anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim image and atrocities on Muslims and Dalits during the SP rule. Though her Jatav votebank is intact, the extra votes needed to succeed might elude her.

UP is standing at a crucial junction. With voting over in 209 constituencies, the remaining 194 constituencies will be audience to more poking and name calling by Behenji, Netaji and Modiji. It does add a little humour to the same rhetoric speeches. What doesn’t amuse is that all parties are busy cleaving the state along communal lines. No one is playing fair as the prize is too big. Old wounds (of 2013 riots and more) are being opened. Will the winning party nurture the tormented state back to normalcy?

(The views expressed here are author’s own and Janta Ka Reporter doesn’t necessarily endorse them)

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