‘Behenji’ is right about Congress, but not entirely so

Poornima Joshi Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh) | Updated on March 18, 2019 Published on March 18, 2019

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh

Congress not fielding candidates in some seats will surely benefit Mahagathbandhan

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati may have warned the Congress against “spreading confusion” by not contesting seven seats in Uttar Pradesh, but the Mahagathbandhan of the BSP, the SP and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) does benefit from the Congress’s decision at least in some seats in the western parts.

In Muzaffarnagar, for instance, where RLD chief Ajit Singh himself is contesting, the Congress’ absence consolidates the arithmetic in his favour. Muzaffarnagar is where the riots in 2013 polarised the majority Jat and Muslim voters on communal lines, and the BJP swept in the 2014 elections.

This time around, issues of farm distress and non-payment of cane arrears have overshadowed the communal divisions and the Mahagathbandhan — with the RLD’s Jat supporters, who form about one-third of Muzaffarnagar’s population; the BSP’s base among the Dalits, which is about 8 per cent of the population; and the Muslims, who are over 41 per cent of the population — is ready for a good contest with the BJP. Ajit Singh’s own claim is that he will “bury the BJP”. “I have come here to uproot them from Muzaffarnagar,” the RLD leader told BusinessLine.

Fear of vote splitting

The BJP has not yet decided on the ticket allocation. Till late Sunday evening when the Congress announcement about not fielding any candidate against Ajit Singh came, RSS insiders in Muzaffarnagar and the neighbouring Kairana, a constituency that the BJP lost to the RLD in the parliamentary bypoll held last year, were hoping that the Congress will split the vote by fielding a strong Muslim candidate from Muzaffarnagar.

They admitted that non-payment of cane arrears to farmers has angered the Jats and this community’s coming together with Muslims and Dalits presents a challenge to the BJP. The Congress fielding a strong Muslim candidate, like it has done in Saharanpur with Imran Masud who did exceptionally well even in the midst of a wave election in 2014, would have helped the BJP by splitting the Mahagathbandhan votes.

Muslim population

Common voters among Muslims seemed more inclined to vote for the Mahagathbandhan than the Congress.

“This time, there will be no split. We will all vote together with our Jat brothers. The riots were an aberration. We have always worked with Jats, and in the villages, such divisions among communities are not good for anyone. We need harmony,” said Anwar, a resident of Purbaliyan village in Muzaffarnagar. Since then, a number of cases have been withdrawn and village elders have worked strenuously to restore communal amity.

“Ajit Singhji’s election is going very well,” said Tabassum Hussein, the sitting MP from Kairana. Hussein had contested the 2018 Lok Sabha bypoll on an RLD ticket and after the Mahagathbandhan was stitched up, she has been fielded on an SP ticket from the same constituency.

On the ground in western Uttar Pradesh, from where the BJP gained its victory momentum in 2014, the Mahagathbandhan is decidedly the first preference for the Muslims, whose percentage in these parts — about 26 per cent on an average — is higher than in UP as a whole (19.3 per cent). But a strong candidate from the Congress does pose the danger of splitting the vote in a crucial election.

Published on March 18, 2019
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