Even those who praise the ‘achievements’ of Narendra Modi find it difficult to forget the woes unleashed by demonetisation, GST and farm distress
M Anas | Caravan Daily
ALIGARH — This west Uttar Pradesh town, Aligarh is perhaps the only Lok Sabha constituency in India where Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah will have some role to play.
For the 2018 controversy surrounding the presence of Jinnah’s portrait in Aligarh Muslim University had helped the incumbent BJP MP Satish Gautam bag the parliamentary ticket for the 2019 election.
Gautam, a Brahmin, was in the bad books of BJP high command. In fact party stalwart Kalyan Singh, presently the governor of Rajasthan, was opposed to his rerun from the constituency. But Gautam cleverly played an active role in raising the Jinnah row to make it to the party’s good books. However, political analysts are of the opinion that his rerun is not going to be as easy as it was during the 2014 election when the Modi wave was at its peak. In 2014, he had won by around 3 lakh votes.
Four-year later, he is pitted against two local Jat leaders — Chaudhary Bijendra Singh of Congress and Ajit Baliyan from the BSP-SP-RLD alliance.
It’s a known fact that people in Aligarh don’t mince words. They are prompt in expressing themselves. As one travels through constituency, the vibes that they are getting is a mixed one. In Khair tehsil, the hometown of alliance candidate Ajit Baliyan, people indicate a strong wave in favour of SP-BSP-RLD alliance.
“This election is clear. Barring some upper caste Hindu votes going to BJP, majority votes of the Dalits, OBCs, Jats, Thakurs and Muslims will be firmly backing the alliance candidate. In Aligarh, it’s a fight between BJP and the alliance,” said Raghvendra Singh, a school teacher and political worker. For Roshan Lal, a sweet vendor, this election must bring forth any candidate who helps raise the income of the rural common man.
“More than city-dwellers, it is villagers who form the backbone of small businesses like ours. During fairs like annual Aligarh ki numaish (exhibition), people throng sweet shops like locusts. But recently, their purchasing power has dipped because of rural stress. Hence, we hope that anybody who takes care of them (rural population) should be the winner,” said Lal. He further added that so far only gathbandhan and Congress candidates seem to be promising for the welfare of the rural areas.
However, Chaudhary Dalvir Singh, BJP MLA of Barauli Assembly segment, rubbishes the reports of rural stress in Aligarh and that people are angry with the BJP government. “People are proud that India is making solid strides under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This election will be about India’s pride and its national security. You should travel through the villages and gauge the mood of the people. You will know the reality,” said Singh.
But contrary to Singh’s assertion, villagers in some of the villages that Caravan Daily visited had mixed opinion. Villages with OBC concentrations like Baghel, Sainis and Kumhars were praising achievements of Modi government, albeit accepting woes unleashed by demonetisation and farm distress. Sandeep Baghel, a villager in Tappal village, said, “Rural stress is acute in villages but despite that people have faith on PM Modi and his leadership.”
Unlike the OBCs, Dalits in Aligarh seem to have firm faith in the gathbandhan candidate and have vouched for their support to the alliance. Ramesh Kumar Jatav, a resident of Sasni Gate locality in Aligarh said, “Jatavs constitute around 70 per cent of the overall Dalits votes in Aligarh constituency. And all of them are united behind the call of Behen Mayawati. Though gathbandhan candidate, Ajit Baliyan, is a Jat, Dalits know that it is difficult to make a Dalit win from non-reserved seat like Aligarh,” he said.
Ajmal Shahnawaz, a political activist, who has toured every nook and corner of Aligarh to gauge the mood, claims that majority of Muslims, Dalits, a section of Jat and Thakurs, some upper caste voters and some OBCs are backing gathbandhan candidate.
“This combination will be enough for any candidate to sail through,” said Shahnawaz. He added, “Aligarh seat is witnessing a fight between BSP (gathbandhan) and BJP.”
There are around 18.5 lakh votes in Aligarh, 20 per cent of it will be Muslim votes. Jats and Thakurs make for 15 per cent votes. Brahmins and Vaishyas make for 10-15 per cent, with a majority being Brahmins, while the rest are from OBCs like Lodhs, Baghel, Sainis, Kumhars, etc.
The incumbent BJP MP Satish Gautam is a Brahmin who won last time due to support from Upper caste, Jats, Thakurs, OBCs and some section of Dalits. This time, political observers believe, that Gautam is losing support from some sections like Dalits, Jats and Thakurs.
However, his supporters don’t agree. Suresh Kumar Baliyan, a BJP worker, insists that he himself is Jat and is supporting BJP. “You will find hundreds of youngsters like me who are supporting BJP,” he said. Vikrant Gupta, a textile merchant at Centre Point, the business hub of Aligarh, echoed the same. “Satish Gautam has fought for the pride of the city. He took umbrage to challenge the communal AMU. He worked to make Aligarh a smart city as promised by the BJP government,” said Gupta.
As charges of AMU being communal fly high in the BJP campaign, people at AMU, both students and teachers, are taking it lightly and not getting provoked. “You won’t see any reaction in the campus. Actually, the university community has read through the malignant designs of the saffron brigade well. They have decided to punish the BJP and its coterie in the arena of electoral battle. We hope that come May, we will have non-BJP MP in Aligarh,” said Shaufi Haider, a research scholar at AMU.