M. Anas | Caravan Daily
LUCKNOW — Saharanpur is seat number 1 in Uttar Pradesh. It’s also numero uno in terms of intensity of electoral contest. Perhaps it is only in this constituency where Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, and SP-BSP-RLD alliance are employing their utmost might to claim the seat.
Saharanpur will go to polls in the first phase on April 11.
In 2014, BJP’s Raghav Lakhanpal, who defeated his rival Imran Masood of Congress by about 62,000 votes in a highly polarised election, occupied the seat.
But despite his defeat, Masood remained the most popular politician from the city. Masood, nephew of former MP and area stalwart Rashid Masood, is known for his Robin Hood style of social work and firebrand politics. In run up to 2014 polls, he had allegedly made incendiary remarks about then BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Video of his remark was widely circulated by BJP workers and the whole city divided on communal lines. Masood was later even arrested for his “hate speech” and he had to get bail to contest election. He lost, but Congress made him a star pracharak in 2015 Assembly bypoll in the city.
Five years later, Masood is again at the centre of attention of Hindutva forces. On Sunday, while kickstarting BJP’s poll campaign, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath called Massod “son-in-law” of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Azhar Masood.
Masood hit back at Yogi saying that “mother India is as much mine as it is Adityanath’s”. He later tweeted picture of a family member with a caption that “we have sent a member of our family in Indian Army. Is there anybody from Yogi’s family in Army?”
But this kind of verbal exchanges, locals and analysts believe, lead to polarisation in Saharanpur and it paves the pitch for BJP.
“Yogi deliberately stirred the communal atmosphere by calling Masood Azhar Masood’s son-in-law. It will invite reaction from Masood and he may end up saying something like what he said during 2014 polls and BJP will have an issue to sell among Hindu electorate. Actually, Masood is not a formidable candidate in this election. Alliance’s Haji Fazlur Rehman Alig is a major contender on the seat. BJP is fearing Rehman and wants the contest to mould towards Masood. Once Masood will be at the centrestage, it’ll be easy for BJP to garner support among Hindu voters cashing in on communal sentiments,” said Kubool Ahmed, a journalist with Aaj Tak Hindi.
Wasil Khan Alif, a local activist from Gangoh tehsil, Saharanpur, the birthplace of Masood, agrees what Kubool said. He says that more than a winner Masood is an election spoiler. “In 2014, he had garnered maximum Muslim votes but the polarisation caused by his comment led to Hindu votes’ consolidation and he lost the game of numbers. Even during 2017 mayor election, he worked against BSP candidate Haji Fazlur Rehman who lost by a meagre margin of 900 votes. He comes from the most-entrenched political family of Saharanpur, but ask locals what contribution has this family made on the development front. Almost none” said Khan.
Khan said that out of 7 lakh Muslim votes on the seat, the current equation shows distribution of 60:40 ratio in favour of Rehman and Masood. “Clearly, the alliance candidate is in direct fight with BJP. Apart from Muslims, he will claim Jats, Gujjars, Yadavs and a swathe of Dalit votes,” said Khan.
There are estimated 17.5 lakh votes in Saharanpur. Out of these, around 7 lakh are Muslims. Among Muslims, dominant bradaris are Teli, Ansari, Ghade, Qureshi, and others. There are around 3.5 lakh Dalits. Majority among them are Jatavas, which are core voters of BSP. Among OBCs, there are Yadavs, Jats, Sainis, Gujjars etc. Rest are Brahmins, Thakurs, Vaishyas, and Punjabis.
Analysts like Professor Khalid Anis Ansari of Glocal University also feels that among Muslims, the majority will support BSP’s Haji Fazlur Rehman and that combined with Muslim support will be majority of Dalits and some OBCs.
“See, in 2014, the winner, Raghav Lakhanpal, had bagged 472,000 votes. This time, any candidate reaching 5 lakh mark will emerge victorious. Reading on the ground suggest that majority of Muslims, say 60% of all sections, will go to Rehman. He will Sureshot get maximum Dalit votes as the majority of them are Jatavs who are unlikely to desert BSP. In addition, OBC votes like Yadavs, Jats and some other castes are likely to vote for gathbandhan given the winnability of their candidate in the city and their alliance in the state. Thus, only Rehman seems to reach 5 lakh votes threshold at this point of time. Rest will be decided as the election progresses in the constituency,” said Prof Khalid.
Majority of locals interviewed by this correspondent in both rural and urban areas said that the fight will be triangular and whoever between Masood and Rehman will be able to garner more Muslims votes may have the cake.
In division of Muslim votes lies the hope of BJP. Awninder Kamal, a local journalist, and sympathiser of BJP candidate Raghav Lakahnpal, told the Caravan Daily that local BJP unit is pinning their hopes on a split in Muslim votes in a way that majority goes to Imran Masood. “If majority goes to Imran, then Rehman will be weakened as he will also gross Hindu (Dalits, Yadavs, Jats). Masood doesn’t get many Hindu votes because of his firebrand image. Hence, BJP will sail through in such a scenario,” he said.