In the backdrop of communal tension triggered by the Sangh Parivar’s campaign against ‘love jihad’ and sporadic incidents of communal clashes, Uttar Pradesh is gearing up for the bypolls in 11 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat to be held on 13 September. The battlelines have been drawn on communal lines, with the ruling Samajwadi Party banking on the support of the minority community while the BJP remains confident of bagging the Hindu votes.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, though, seems little worried by the mounting challenge to his government and is currently in the Netherlands to study floriculture.
While the BJP is crying hoarse over the appeasement of Muslims and discrimination against Hindus by the Akhilesh Yadav government, the Samajwadi Party alleges that the saffron party is trying to create a situation akin to October 1990, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had called for ‘kar seva’ near Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and forced a confrontation with the then Janata Dal government in UP led by Mulayam Singh Yadav. That campaign led to the demolition of the mosque two years later.
The BJP today is riding the crest of its unprecedented success in the state in the General Election, where it won 71 of the 80 seats and decimated its rivals — the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. The party’s actions in the past few months show that it has no hesitation in falling back upon its time-tested weapon of communal polarisation to reap electoral gains. In the run-up to the bypolls, it has deployed the rabble-rouser Yogi Adityanath, five-term MP from Gorakhpur in eastern UP.
The activities of Adityanath, a Rajput leader known for his frequent diatribes against Muslims, Christians and even Brahmins, had been restricted to eastern UP in the past, but now, he has been asked to address election rallies in all the seats where bypolls will be held. These include the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat, which was vacated by Mulayam Singh and where his elder brother’s son, Tej Pratap Yadav, is in the fray.
Adityanath heads a militant Hindutva outfit called the Hindu Vahini and never forgets to touch upon the Hindu-Muslim divide in his public speeches. Recently, he made a bizarre analysis of the incidence of communal riots by classifying localities according to the density of Muslim residents. “Stray communal incidents take place where Muslims form 10-20 percent of the population; serious riots occur where their population is 30-35 percent; and where Muslims exceed 35 percent of the population, there is no place for non- Muslims,” he said.
Yogi’s vitriolic statements have heated up the communal cauldron in the state and the temperature is set to rise further as the polling date comes closer. “I will go to western UP and other areas, and Hindutva will be the core agenda of our campaign. We demand effective checks on conversions and love jihad, besides a ban on cow slaughter,” said Adityanath.
Ten of the 11 Assembly seats going for bypolls had been vacated by BJP MLAs after they were elected to the Lok Sabha, and one by an MLA from its ally Apna Dal. No wonder, the party is pulling out all stops to retain all these seats. The bypolls are also an advance reality check on the BJP’s chances to take power in Lucknow in 2017. The party is also under tremendous pressure to post a good performance in the state as it has suffered setbacks in the recent bypolls in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Karnataka.
Four of the Assembly seats going for bypolls are in western UP (Saharanpur Nagar, Noida, Thakurdwara and Bijnor), while two are in the Bundelkhand region (Charkhari and Hamirpur). The other crucial seats are Sirathu in Kaushambi district, Balha in Bahraich district and Lucknow East, besides Rohaniya, which is one of the Assembly segments under the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP is hopeful of sweeping the seats in western UP in the wake of the communal polarisation in the region since the Muzaffarnagar riots last September, but elsewhere it is facing a tough contest from the Samajwadi Party.
The stakes are high for the BJP as the prestige of two Union ministers, Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra, is involved in the bypoll for the Lucknow East seat. This seat is one of the Assembly segments under the Lucknow Lok Sabha constituency represented by Singh, and had been vacated by Mishra following his election to the Lok Sabha. The intense infighting within the state BJP unit and rumours of conflict between the two ministers, coupled with the fact that the Samajwadi Party has fielded a Rajput candidate in Lucknow East, has made things difficult for the saffron party.
As the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP has so far avoided taking a clear stand on whether Adityanath’s rhetoric has vitiated the communal atmosphere in the state. State leaders of the party, however, have come out in Adityanath’s support. “Our opponents target Yogi Adityanath, but have nothing to say about the insecurity faced by Hindus in Muslim-dominated areas of western UP and other parts of the state,” says BJP state president Lakshmikant Bajpai. “Adityanath has only articulated the bitter truth, while the other parties are indulging in minority appeasement. For over a decade, he has been raising the issue of the proliferation of madrasas on the Indo-Nepal border in UP and Bihar, and no one has countered him.”
Denying that the BJP has linked communal riots with a particular community, Bajpai says, “The riots are a consequence of the appeasement of the minority community by the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.”
Adityanath claims that he has only sought to draw attention to “the persecution of Hindus under the Samajwadi Party regime, particularly the targeting of Hindu girls by Muslim youth as part of their sinister plan of love jihad”. “Hindus who dare to fight the terror unleashed by Muslims are being framed in false cases,” he says. “We will raise all these issues in the campaign for the bypolls.”
Several Muslim organisations and intellectuals have demanded Adityanath’s arrest for his alleged hate speech. But the Samajwadi Party government, which fancies itself as the messiah of secularism but is often accused of being hand-in-glove with the BJP, has desisted from initiating legal action against the rabble-rouser. It has, however, filed a complaint with the Election Commission and requested it to stop the BJP MP from campaigning for the bypolls.
“The BJP has been trying to foment communal trouble right ever since Akhilesh Yadav became chief minister in March 2012. The party’s belligerence has increased after the General Election, but we will never allow its nefarious designs to succeed,” says Samajwadi Party spokesman and Prisons Minister Rajendra Chowdhary. “We are following the due process of law in dealing with Adityanath and the communal menace.”
The police have been asked to video record all the public meetings addressed by Adityanath. “In all the poll-bound districts, the administration has been asked to keep a close watch on the campaign and take action against anyone found violating the model code of conduct,” says Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Mukul Goel.
The stakes are high for both the Samajwadi Party and the BJP as they struggle to retain their respective political ground in the state. For the BJP, the bypoll results will indicate whether the political momentum generated during the General Election continues to hold sway over the electorate in Uttar Pradesh. And for the SP, the results will be a crucial pointer towards its chances of retaining power in the state, come 2017.