Caste, religion drive campaign in high-stakes Aligarh seat

first_imgDespite opposition from within the ranks, the BJP has reposed its faith in sitting MP Satish Kumar Gautam who won the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Aligarh by a margin of over 2.8 lakh votes.Sources say Mr. Gautam has earned the party’s confidence by emerging as a poster boy of Hindutva in the communally sensitive city during the Jinnah portrait controversy in Aligarh Muslim University in 2018. “As AMU has no significant vote bank, he used it as a whipping boy by presenting the institution as a mini-Pakistan to the rest of the constituency,” says Dr. Aftab Alam, professor of political science at AMU.Being a Brahmin, Mr. Gautam fits the caste arithmetic as well, as both his main rivals are Jats — Congress’ Bijendra Singh and Ajit Baliyan of SP-BSP-RLD — and the Thakur vote seems to be getting divided.There are suggestions that Rajasthan Governor and BJP veteran Kalyan Singh wanted the Aligarh ticket for Thakur Shivraj Singh, the father-in-law of his granddaughter, but the Central leadership didn’t heed to his wish. As a result, a lakh-odd Lodh voters in the Atrauli segment of the constituency are said to be sulking.“Those who are opposing, their opposition will not bear any fruit,” counters Dalvir Singh, the BJP MLA from Barauli Assembly segment in the constituency. “The biggest issue is national security. People will vote for Narendra Modi and his nationalist agenda,” says Mr. Dalvir.Cong.’s ‘tough candidate’Though last time he finished fourth, Bijendra Singh of the Congress has a reputation of being a “tough fighter”, having defeated the then four-time BJP MP Sheila Gautam in 2004. A little over 50 % of the Aligarh constituency is rural, and Mr. Bijendra is building his campaign on the farm distress. With two-time SP MLA Zameer Ullah Khan, seen as a polarising figure in the Hindu community, making a last-minute switch to the Congress, Mr. Bijendra is hoping to open the deadlock for his party in western U.P. “In the last five years, the BJP has poisoned society and there is a sense of fear. Having been in public life for 35 years, I am trusted by both Hindus and Muslims. Farmers are losing crops because of stray cattle menace and the payment of cane farmers has not been made yet,” says the five-time MLA. Smart City driveThe election will decide how the BJP’s development agenda will translate into votes. Since the city has come under the Smart Cities Mission, the administration has been running a dedicated drive to remove illegal encroachments. “We are ready to bear the burden. It is good for the city,” says Nitin Agarwal who runs a shop at Centre Point, the city’s business hub. About 2 km away, the Dodhpur area looks even more dilapidated. Abdul Azim, who runs a popular sweet shop, alleges that establishments run by Muslims were purposefully targeted to make a point. “In our shops the bulldozer was allowed to create damage beyond the official mark. We are already reeling under the effect of demonetisation, how can we afford to go to the court,” asks Mr. Aziz. BSP’s newcomerThe BSP has opted for a rank newcomer in Ajit Baliyan. By hiring the Tasveer Mahal theatre, once a major cultural symbol of the city, as the party office, he is attracting eyeballs. With Md. Furqan, the BSP mayor in tow, he is seeking Dalit-Muslim unity.“The Jatav voter knows that we don’t have the resources to field a Scheduled Caste candidate on a general seat. He goes by Behenji’s [Mayawati’s] choice. The BJP is trying to woo the Valmikis and the OBCs, but with the SP part of the pact [gathbandhan], we will sail through,” says Lal Singh Rastogi, president of the BSP unit of the Koil Assembly segment. Aligarh votes in the second phase on April 18.last_img