Hardcore Hindutva, caste equations, and communal harmony — the BJP has separate, and disparate, narratives to woo voters of Noida, Dadri and Jewar assembly constituencies located within 50km of each other in Gautam Budh Nagar district.
These three are among 73 constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh that will vote on Saturday in the first of the seven-phase staggered elections in the state.
The BJP’s campaign is led by party chief Amit Shah, and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Piyush Goyal and Mahesh Sharma, who represents Gautam Budh Nagar in Parliament. The party’s poll plank is development and demonetisation, but the rhetoric boils down to local issues and sentiments in the three seats close to the national capital.
In Noida, party president Shah invoked the cow slaughter narrative for the majority Hindu electorate.
He announced that a BJP government in the state, if the party wins the polls, will ban all unregulated slaughterhouses. Also, “anti-Romeo” squads will be set up to fight “Samajwadi Party goons” and “hang them upside down”.
Power minister Goyal tried to woo voters belonging to the Vaishya or trader community of Noida. He drew a parallel between the BJP’s ideology and that of legendary Vaishya king, Agrasen.
He said traders have been the hardest hit by rising crime in the state under the Samajwadi Party government.
Union home minister Singh’s son, Pankaj Singh, is the BJP candidate for Noida.
If caste lines were cast in Noida, a hardline Hindutva plot played out in Dadri — where communal fault-lines continue to fester after a 55-year-old Muslim man, Mohammad Ikhlaq, was lynched on the suspicion of slaughtering a cow for a family feast in September 2015.
At Ikhlaq’s village, Bisada, Hindu families are vexed over the arrest of 18 youngsters for the murder. The anger and antagonism increased when one of the suspects died in custody last October. Villagers held a meeting on a public ground and demanded justice. Hate speeches were reportedly heard.
Four months on, the BJP held a rally at the same venue with ministers Singh and Sharma canvassing for party candidate Tejpal Singh Nagar, a Gujjar.
Sharma spoke about the glorious history of Rajputs, saying “warriors such as Maharana Pratap are worthy of respect and not Man Singh”.
Maharana Pratap fought the battle of Haldighati against Man Singh, commander of the Mughal forces.
The minister’s dog-whistle speech was not lost on the audience — Rajputs who fought against the Mughals are respected, not those sided with them.
Those speaking after him seized the narrative, and called India’s Independence in 1947 not only the end to British rule but also freedom from “barbaric terrorists” who arrived before the European colonialists.
Caste done, Hindutva done; Jewar followed a different storyline.
When Singh and Sharma landed at Rabupura inter-college public ground on Thursday to campaign for party candidate Dhirendra Singh, a 50,000-strong crowd was waiting to hear them. Seated on the front row were about 60 Muslim men and women.
Their presence is not surprising as Rabupura has a sizeable Muslim population that has been supporting Dhirendra Singh for the past 30 years. In the previous assembly polls, he lost the Jewar seat as a Congress candidate to Ved Ram Bhati of the BSP by a small margin. The Congress veteran recently switched to the BJP.
The BJP leaders recalled in Jewar the joint struggle by “Hindu-Muslim brothers” in India’s fight for Independence.
Home minister Singh narrated an anecdote about freedom fighter Ashfaqullah Khan, who was hanged alongside Ram Prasad Bismil. “When Ashfaqullah was asked his last wish, he told the jailer to inform his mother that he married his bride at the gallows. Then he explained to jailer that the bride is freedom and he will meet her when he is hanged.”
For his part, Sharma spoke about king Alexander in high regard — quite a departure from his Dadri speech when he cautioned the voters about outsiders and invaders.
He accused BSP chief Mayawati of dividing Muslim and Dalit voters along religion and caste lines.
“Do remember that when Sikander (Alexander) came to India, he refused to sit on an elephant (BSP’s poll symbol) and chose a horse as his ride… Only the BJP can work towards the welfare of all sections of society,” Sharma said.