The sitting BJP MP in Aligarh, which was at the centre of a raging controversy last year over Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait at the distinguished Aligarh Muslim University, is facing strong anti-incumbency and anger from traders, making the Lok Sabha election a three-cornered contest. Satish Gautam of Bharatiya Janata Party is fighting “mahagathbandhan” candidate Ajeet Baliyan of Bahujan Samaj Party and Bijendra Singh of Congress in the election to be held on Thursday.
The BJP candidate appears to be banking on a division of the Muslim vote while the two opposition candidates are hoping for its consolidation in favour of one of them. Sameer Mishra, a businessman, said he does not like the hard-line Gautam takes. “People, like me, chose him to bring pro-people policies and not instigate controversies like the one he did in Aligarh Muslim University,” Mishra said.
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In May 2018, Gautam demanded the portrait of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, be removed from AMU student union office where it had been for decades. Violent protests ensued. “This aggressive and communal attitude has showed him in bad light. We would have supported another BJP candidate but not him again,” Mishra added. But other residents of the city admitted that Gautam has a strong Brahmin voter base, about five lakh in the constituency.
Brahmins, Vaishya and Chatriya together make up about seven lakh of the total 18.73 lakh voters in Aligarh, a lock-making hub in western Uttar Pradesh. There are 3.50 lakh Muslims voters while Jat, Yadav and Lodi account for four lakh. Around 3.50 lakh voters belong to SC/ST communities. In 2014, Gautam won the seat by beating BSP’s Arvind Kumar Singh by over two lakh votes. “But that time Gautam was riding on Modi wave. Things have changed since,” said a BJP member, who did not wished to be named.
“There is strong opposition for Gautam by veteran leader Kalyan Singh who did not support his candidature and was vocal about it too within party cadres,” the BJP member added. “Another factor which might act against him is the anger brewing among lock industrialists who are extremely angry with him over demonetisation and high GST rate,” said Tribhuvan Sarmisht, a tea seller on Shahjamal Road, a hub of small lock industries in the area.
Prakash Sharma, owner of Rajput locks, agrees with him. “Most of the industries on this road closed post demonetisation and GST implementation. Even my business is running in loss, it would definitely reflect in the result of the polls,” Sharma said.
“I know Gautam wasn’t directly responsible for demonetisation and GST but even our demands and situation was put forward by him which is his responsibility as an elected member,” he said. This anti-incumbency may benefit both Congress and mahagathbandhan who have promised to focus on education and improve the city’s infrastructure, many residents feel.
A split in Muslim votes between Congress and mahagathbandhan may prove a challenge, the residents say, and added the mahagathbandhan candidate, Baliyan, a newcomer and Jat leader, has a better chance due to his strong support base also among SC/ST voters.
“It is high time that Muslims do tactical voting as that could play a very important role in the turnout in the election,” said Ali Nadeem Rezavi, a professor at Aligarh Muslim University. Nusrat Jahan, a primary school teacher, said the Congress candidate, Singh, has fought the election 12 times so she is thinking of giving the mahagathbandhan candidate a chance.
“It is yet to be seen how other voters think but for now, I think, Baliyan has a better chance as he would have the combined support of BSP-SP-RLD voters,” she said. Aligarh goes to poll in second phase of elections on April 18. Khair, Baroli, Atroli , Kol and Aligarh city are assembly segments in the constituency.