At Tabassum Hasan’s election office in Shamli town, it is clear that she is much more than the Rashtriya Lok Dal nominee for the Kairana Lok Sabha bypoll. Apart from the RLD flags, the flags of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party greet visitors there. They bear witness to the fact that she is the joint candidate of the opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh, hoping to show that the defeat of the BJP in the Lok Sabha bye-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in March was no fluke. Barely a kilometre away is the office of the BJP candidate Mriganka Singh. It displays photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah.
The May 28 bye-election was called after Mriganka Singh’s father Hukum Singh, a veteran politician from western UP, died in office. Tabassum Hasan too is banking on family connections. Her Shamli office displays a portrait of her late husband Munnawar Hasan, who had represented Kairana both in the state assembly and the Lok Sabha. The RLD office also has a picture of Jat leader Chaudhary Charan Singh, whose son Ajit Singh heads the party. But in western UP, even the BJP cannot afford to ignore his legacy. Its election brochures too carry his picture.
Invoking Charan Singh may be the only thing that the two women have in common. Both have divergent views on the “exodus” of Hindu families from Kairana, a claim made by Mriganka Singh’s father which became a major issue in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. “The exodus of Hindu families from Kairana has stopped,” she says.
“Before the 2017 UP Assembly elections hundreds of Hindu families had fled from Kairana out of fear and harassment. However, after the BJP government under Yogi Adityanath was formed, the law and order scenario in the region has improved,” she says. But Tabassum Hasan, a former BSP MP who later joined the SP and then the RLD , says, “There was no exodus from Kairana in the first place.” “Both Hindus and Muslims have been living here in harmony for generations. The exodus issue was flagged only to divert attention from important issues, to add a communal colour to the elections and divide voters,” she says.
The BJP candidate is also seen by many as a “local”, thanks to her father’s standing in the area, though a 2017 election affidavit shows she is enrolled as a voter in Muradnagar assembly constituency. Her father’s home is in Kairana. “Mriganka Singh, the daughter of our former MP Hukum Singh is certainly one among Kairana residents, while Tabassum Beghum is comparatively not familiar with this place,” says Ajeet Singh, a tea seller on the busy Kairana-Shamli road.
Mahendra Singh, a grocery merchant in the city, feels that the entry of another woman in the fray may have queered the pitch for the BJP candidate. “Had there been no female challenger to Mriganka, she would have had a cake-walk,” he says. Mriganka Singh’s Shamli election office is abuzz with activity. Party workers drop in to collect election material.
Men take turns at the hookah. At board at the entrance lists the candidate’s campaign schedule. A dais has been set up for party leaders to address workers. “At least 2,000 dedicated party workers are engaged in door-to-door campaigning for the party candidate,” claims Puran Chand Jatav, the office in-charge. He says her visit to the camp office a few days back led to a traffic jam on the street outside. There are fewer people at the RLD office.
Laxmi Chand, who looks after the day-to-day affairs there, says most party workers are out voters personally. “The coming together of four political parties against the BJP has definitely made the election interesting. And I am confident that the joint opposition candidate will win from here,” he says. Sitting next to him, Abdul Hakeem Khan says he has never seen an election in which the ruling party is challenged by a joint opposition. “This is the beauty of our democracy,” he says. Both are confident that Kairana’s “daughter-in-law” Tabassum Hasan will defeat “Kairana’s daughter”.