A majority of Sikhs in Palia town of Lakhimpur Kheri district close their business establishments in the evening and head toward Gurudawara Singh Sabha on Station Road to join prayers.
At other times, this place of worship is suffused with calmness as priests recite verses from the Guru Granth Sahib.
But this is the poll season. And the gurudwara has become a hive of activity as the leaders of political parties vie with one another to greet the visitors.
“The Sikh vote is crucial for victory in this election,” says Suraj Singh, who runs a general store on Station Road. “The leaders and candidates of the SP, BJP, BSP and Congress are busy canvassing in the Sikh dominated localities and villages. The Sikhs hold the key to victory,” he says.
The political parties are out to woo the Sikh voters not only in Palia but in all the assembly constituencies in the Terai region of west UP.
Initially, the parties focused on Muslims, dalits, backward and upper caste voters. But as the polling date approaches, they have realised that the Sikh voters can turn the tide in their favour in several constituencies.
Senior leaders have been tasked with holding meetings in Sikh dominated areas. They are highlighting the projects and schemes launched by their respective governments for the welfare of Sikhs.
Union minister Maneka Gandhi, the BJP MP from Pilibhit, has addressed meetings in Sikh-dominated villages in Puranpur. The SP has deployed prison minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia to win the support of the community. Ramoowalia has addressed over two dozen meetings in various constituencies. The BSP’s Sikh committee led by Indrapal Singh is busy campaigning in the Terai region, urging the community to vote on elephant (BSP symbol) on February 15 when the region goes to polls.
The Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Party (RKMP) led by veteran farmer leader VM Singh has added spice to the fight for the Sikh vote.
Singh told HT, “Rather than caste and religion, I am appealing to the voters to exercise their franchise on agricultural issues.” The RKMP candidates are organising regular meetings in Sikh majority villages in Pilibhit.
Realising the importance of the Sikh vote, BSP chief Mayawati made it clear at a public meeting in Shahjahanpur that her government will not acquire the land of Sikh farmers for distribution among landless dalits.
“Rivals are spreading rumours to create confusion among the Sikh voters,” she said.
For his part, Ramoowalia says, “I am highlighting the development projects and welfare schemes launched by the Akhilesh Yadav government in Sikh-dominated Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri and Shahjahanpur districts. It is the first time that a Sikh leader has been inducted into the ministry (in UP). The SP government released funds for Punjabi Academy, sent pilgrims to Patna Saheb by a special train and ordered for release of Waryam Singh (70), who was serving life term in jail.”
Uday Vir Singh, a political observer, says, “The Sikh vote is decisive in over a dozen assembly constituencies in the Terai region. The political parties know that if they win the support of the Sikhs, they will also get the backing of the other farming communities.”
Baljit Singh Khera, an office bearer of the gurudwara committee at Puranpur in Pilibhit, says, “The Sikhs will vote on the development issue. The political parties that will set up a network of roads, ensure regular power supply, distribution of seeds and fertiliser during the sowing season will get the support of the Sikh community.”