Phase 1 Crucial for BJP; SP-Cong, BSP Sense Opportunity
Jats appear to be dividing votes between RLD and BJP while Muslims are likely to vote for party that can defeat BJP
New Delhi: Polling for the politically crucial state of UP will begin on Saturday with 73 constituencies spread over 15 districts of the western part voting in the first phase in which the sizable presence of Muslims and Jats will play an important role in deciding the fate of SP-Congress combine, BJP, BSP and RLD.
Though the shadow of the 2013 riots is still cast in the area, especially the Shamli-Muzaffarnagar-Meerut belt, the Jats to have moved on. Unlike the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they are dividing their votes between the RLD and BJP. The Muslims, however, give clear indications that they will vote for whichever party is in a position to defeat the BJP in a particular constituency. Polling will be held in riotscarred Shamli and Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bhagpat, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura, Hathras, Agra, Firozabad, Etah and Kasganj on February11.
BJP has tried to polarise the elections in the western part of UP with the likes of Yogi Adityanath, Hukum Singh, Sanjeev Balyan, Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana making remarks targeting Muslims. The party has raised the issue of Hindu migration from Kairana and Shamli under pressure from local Muslims, cow slaughter, Muslim boys wooing Hindu girls. The party has promised in its manifesto that it will close down slaughter houses and form Anti-Romeo squads (which are seen largely as a move to curb ‘Love Jihad’).
However, the Jats appear disenchanted with the BJP due to the developments since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Locals talk about the way the BJP government in Haryana quelled the Jat agitation for reservation, not getting sugarcane dues, demonetization and a host of issues on which they feel the Centre as well as the Samajwadi Party government has let them down.
Jats votes are likely to split between BJP and Ajit Singh-led RLD. This can upset BJP calculations in many constituencies going to polls in this phase. BJP is banking on the non-Jatav Dalit and the Most Backward Caste votes in this region. However,
RLD has fielded non-Jat candidates (like Gujjars or from MBCs like Sainis, Pal), which will dent BJP.
Muslims, who represent more than 30% of the electorate in several constituencies of western UP, will decide the fate of the polls to a great extent. While SP-Congress combine is their first choice, BSP is a clear gainer in seats where the alliance has put up a weak candidate. Several constituencies are witnessing interesting contests and prominent leaders are in the fray in many seats. Sangeet Som (Sardhana), Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj (Noida), Suresh Rana (Thana Bhawan), Laxmikant Bajpai (Meerut), Srikant Sharma (Mathura), Hukum Singh’s daughter Mriganka (Kairana), Nahid Hasan (Shamli), Shahid Manzoor (Kithore) are some of the important candidates in the fray.