New Delhi: Around 64.2 percent of the total 2.59 crore voters exercised their franchise on Saturday in the first of the seven-phased UP polls. The total turnout in this year’s assembly election in western region of the state was higher than 61.2 percent in 2012.
Polling took place in 73 assembly constituencies spread across 15 districts in the western region of India’s most populous state.
The fates of 839 candidates were sealed in EVMs in this phase.
The elections results which will be declared on March 11 may surprise the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is expecting absolute majority in the state assembly.
The party has reasons to worry in western region of the state, particularly in the rural belt of Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Baghpat that went to polls along with 11 other districts of western UP on Saturday.
Sizeable Jat voters, Janta Ka Reporter spoke to, said they have against the BJP because their demand for reservation in government jobs were not met in Haryana and the party failed to have a leader of the community to head the state.
They were also angry over the forceful eviction of their leader Ajit Singh, the chief of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), from his bungalow in Delhi and inaction of the party on converting a bungalow where former Prime Minister Charan Singh lived into a memorial for the Jat leader.
Visibly angry over the “faulty” BJP policies, Ramesh Malik, a Jat leader, said, “We cannot allow any party to use and throw us. We know how to take our rights. Not less than 85 percent Jat voters have voted against the BJP. Our votes will go to the RLD.”
Rural Jat belts have voted in huge numbers.
Though Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) National President Chaudhary Rakesh Tikait, son of Chaudhary Mahendra Singh Tikait, believes that 85 percent is an “exaggerated” figure, but he too was quite vocal in accepting that 60 percent of Jat votes have “shifted from the BJP to the RLD”.
“No doubt, Jats are extremely unhappy and the BJP will have to bear the burnt,” he added.
But what explains the anger of the community which voted overwhelmingly in favour of the saffron party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
But urban Jats have largely voted for the BJP at those seats where Muslim voters went enmasse for the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress alliance. Meerut city constituency is one such seat where former UP BJP chief and three time MLA Lakshmikant Bajpai is fighting tough battle with SP’s Rafeeq Ansari.
Muslim voters at this seat said they have voted for the SP. BJP’s Vajpai had won from the constituency in 2012 with a small margin.
On the other hand, Manish Singh, a Jat living in Meerut, said, “Jat voters at this (Bajpai’s) seat have largely voted for the BJP except strong RLD supporters.”
But overall, Muslims have very tactically voted on different seats to ensure defeat of the BJP. For instance, they have voted in favour of the BSP because they think the candidate is the “best suited” to defeat Hindurva poster boy Sangeet Som in Sardhana constituency in Meerut.
“We have voted for the BSP candidate because he is giving tough fight to Som,” said Gulzar, an electrical motor mechanic in Sardhana.
Interestingly, Baniyas (the traders community) have abstained from voting, arguing that since they cannot vote for a party other than the BJP but they do not want to do it this time because of the losses they have incurred as a result of demonetisation.
“Therefore, a section of voters of the traders community generally stayed away from voting,” said Anuj Rastogi, secretary, Meerut Handloom Association.
Others accompanying him said, “Our businesses have collapsed because of the demonetisation and capping on transactions. The BJP have broken our backbones.”
One more trader, who refused to be named, said the business community wants peace, not communal tensions because it hurts our business. “Our customers include both Hindus and Muslims. The politics of polarisation and raising communal tensions time and again by flagging controversial issues vitiates the atmosphere which directly imapcts our business,” he added.
“We are prefering to stay at home because if we go to vote, lotus (the election symbol of the BJP) will do rounds in our mind which we do not want to do it,” said another trader.
A voter at a polling station in Muyzaffarnagar was heard as saying, “Notebandi ki line ghalat thi, ye waali (voting queue ) line sahi hai (the long queues (outside banks following demonetisation) were not good, but this queue is good). We will teach BJP a lesson.”
Valmikis, an SC community which is considered as BJP loyal, too have broken stereotypes about their voting patterns.
“We have broken the trend and voted for the BSP. The BJP was taking us for granted,” said Bhupinder, a Valmiki youth at Meerut.
A number of Valmikis were seen volunteering at different stalls set up by the BSP near several polling booths in Meerut.
Sanjay,a Dalit youth outside a polling booth in Meerut South constituency, said, “I voted for Behenji (BSP chief Mayawati) for ‘sabka vikas‘.”
Dr Satish Prakash, a Dalit scholar who teaches at Meerut College, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari’s appeal to Muslims to vote for the BSP in the Uttar Pradesh elections has benifited the party.
But it has polarised Hindu votes as well at different places. “If Muslims do tactical voting according to candidates, then it is well and good. Otherwise, it will give the BJP a chance,” he added.
Two seats each of Mathura’s five constituencies are likely to go to the RLD and BSP. Mathura Vrindavan seat is witnessing a triangular contest between BJP, Congress and RLD. BJP’s Srikant Sharma, who is fighting from here, is making the seat important.