As the nail-biting contest between Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party wraps up in Karnataka, all eyes are now on the next electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh’s communally-sensitive district of Kairana. While there were many takeaways from the recently concluded assembly polls for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it will be Kairana, not Karnataka, which set the tone for 2019.
Kairana by-election is going to be a battle between BJP’s dominance and Opposition’s unity. On one hand, the joint Opposition — Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress — will try to prove that victory in Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls wasn’t a fluke and the alliance can deliver startling results. On the other, it will be a battle for prestige for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who recently suffered a humiliating defeat in his bastion – Gorakhpur.
A Muslim-dominated seat, Kairana was held by BJP stalwart Hukum Singh, whose death necessitated the elections. Hukum Singh’s daughter, Mriganka is fighting the elections this time and banking on a sympathy wave. Posing a tough challenge to Mriganka is Tabassum Hasan, an SP leader fighting on an RLD ticket. Tabassum is a former MP and wife of Munawwar Hasan, former strongman MP from the constituency who died in a car accident. The two other parties, BSP and Congress, have pulled out of the elections to avoid division of Muslim votes. Tabassum is banking on the popularity her family enjoys among Muslims of the area, coupled with the support of Jat voters this time, who are the traditional support base of Ajit Singh’s RLD.
With both camps dependent on consolidation of votes, a ‘Ganna vs Jinnah’ politics is likely to play out in the area. Jinnah here has become the talking point for polarising voters by both camps. However, ‘Ganna’, or issues related to demands of the farmer community, may be the real vote catcher.
The constituency has six sugar mills: four private (the Shamli factory of Sir Shadi Lal Enterprises, Rana Sugars’ factory in Unn, Bajaj Hindusthan’s in Thana Bhawan and Uttam Sugar’s in Shermau) and two cooperative (in Sarsawa and Nanauta). As per a report by The Indian Express, sugarcane farmers, who dominate the constituency, are unhappy over delayed disbursement of funds to be given to the peasants. The report says six mills have bought sugarcane worth Rs 1,778.49 crore at the UP government’s State Advised Price (SAP) so far. However, they have only paid Rs 888.03 crore. This further translates into Rs 807.22 crore in arrears – for a single constituency.
In 2016, then MP Hukum Singh had alleged that 250 Hindu families from Kairana had vacated their village in the Muslim-dominated district. Later in 2017, the BJP raised the issue during the elections and targeted the government for allegedly siding with a particular community. The saffron party won four out of five seats in the elections with 38 per cent votes. The saffron party will look for a similar issue this time. The protests against Jinnah portrait in AMU, or any other similar issue, may result in consolidation of Hindu votes, which would help. However, the coming together of Opposition parties has changed dimensions in the constituency.
In Kairana, there are 5.46 lakh Muslims voters and over 10 Lakh Hindus voters, who are further divided into subcastes – 2.46 lakh Dalits, 1.52 lakh Jats, 1.23 lakh Kashyaps, 1.20 lakh Gujjars, one lakh Sainis, 32,000 Thakurs, 65,000 Brahmins, 60,000 Vaish, and 1.05 lakh others.
Among the Hindu castes, the BJP is looking to garner the support of some of the Dalit, Gujjar and Jat votes. The party may also get support from other caste groups. However, the overwhelming number of Muslims, who are expected to vote for the RLD-SP candidate and remain undivided in absence of a Congress candidate, is the biggest cause of concern for the saffron party.