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UP election: Day before polls, a peek into the voters’ mind

assembly elections Updated: Feb 11, 2017 01:43 IST
Prashant Jha
UP elelction

Election officials get ready for the vote on February 11, at a distribution centre in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. (AFP)

It is meant to be a quiet day, with no rallies and speeches, with no campaigning and roadshows. But it is also a day when in each kasba, each bazaar, each village, each town here in west UP’s Muzaffarnagar district, all that is being discussed is the election - for the district goes to polls on February 11.

For candidates, it is a day of last-minute mobilisation, for the final round of quiet canvassing, for the phone calls to supporters in each village, for getting booth level committees in order. It is a day for the final push before sitting back to watch their fates determined by others.

But for the voters, it is the day of quiet reflection, it is a day to finally make up their minds about who they want as their representative, it is a day to convince family and friends and to listen to others one last time.

HT travelled to multiple villages to listen into these conversations on Friday.

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The Muslim mind

Abdur Rahman and Samuddin were sitting outside a chai-stall in Tawli bazaar on the Muzaffarnagar-Budhana road. The bazaar, they say, falls under the Charthawal assembly segment.

When asked which way Muslims would vote, Rahman replied, “We are with SP’s Mukesh Chaudhary. Akhilesh has done good work.” When asked if they would be fine voting for a Jat candidate despite the Jat-Muslim acrimony of 2013, he replied, “Yes, we are voting for the party. But BSP has a Muslim candidate and so does RLD. And so the community vote will split.” He pointed towards two houses on the road - one with a cycle, and the other with an elephant flag fluttering, and smiled, “They are two brothers, both Muslims, supporting different sides”

Samuddin said they had voted for BSP in both 2012 and 2014. What made him change this time? “We voted for Mayawati but her own voters went to BJP, so what’s the point.” This is a reference to the widespread perception among Muslims in this region that Dalits had voted for PM Modi in 2014.

Some distance away, opposite the Tawli madrasa, a group of Muslims are more certain. All supporters of Akhilesh Yadav, they say it does not matter to them that the BSP candidate is a Muslim. “What matters is work, and the BSP MLA did nothing in this area,” says Mohammed Ayub, a teacher at the madrasa.

The constituency changes to Budhana as we move ahead to Shahpur bazaar. Here, Iqbal, a shopkeeper says that his vote is for BSP’s powerful leader, Kadir Rana. Is it because he is Muslim? “No, we know him. He comes and sits with us. Personal relationships matter.”

While it would be rash to summarise the Muslim mind based on a few conversations, few features are clear. Many in the community prefer SP - even though it was under SP that riots took place in Muzaffarnagar. But where BSP has Muslim candidates, the community vote will inevitably get fragmented - to what extent is unclear.

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The Dalits return

Off the Muzaffarnagar-Shamli highway is Pinna village. A group of men assert confidently that this election will witness the return of Behenji. They turn out to be Dalits. The village itself is a part of a reserved constituency, Purqazi.

Arun Kumar explains, “Under the SP sarkar, there is no sunwai, no one listens to us - not in the thana, not in government offices, not for jobs. We need Mayawati back.”

But was it true that many Dalits moved to BJP last time? “Yes, we made a mistake. People fell for Modi’s promises. They thought in the bada (big) election, we will will vote BJP but in the chota (small) election, everyone has returned to make Behenji CM.” Elderly Jatav men nod and agree with Kumar.

Kumar is a Jatav - BSP’s core constituency - and all accounts suggest this group sees 2017 as a battle of survival for Mayawati. They have returned home.

A Jat pradhan speaks

Ask for the pradhan in north Indian villages and irrespective of whether he is indeed the village head, you are directed to the patriarch of the house. And so one is told Pinna’s pradhan is Chand Pal Singh, even though his daughter in law, Bhawana, is the actual pradhan.

Singh, a Jat, says this is a difficult election to read because people are keeping their preferences close to their chest. “Koi khul nahin raha, people are not opening up,” he says with a laugh.

When asked if it was true that Jats are moving away from BJP, and returning to RLD, Singh shakes his head. He says, “30 percent Jats will go back to RLD. Ajit Singh has been making emotional pleas. And so some Jats - older ones, those who don’t know politics - think we should save RLD as a Jat party. But most are still with BJP.” He adds that even he had sent a tractor full of people for an RLD rally, but would vote for BJP himself.

Why?

Singh argues that Jats should have a more realistic assessment of their strength. “We are 5-6 percent. We are confined to these 10-15 districts. We can’t do much on our own. And all other Hindu castes are with BJP.” He then suggests the ideal combination would have been a BJP-RLD tie up.

Other Jats this reporter spoke to, in his own village, however do not share Singh’s outlook - and believe BJP has not treated them fairly. The extent to which they will desert the BJP ship will be a key determinant of many seats in the first phase.

As UP heads to one of its most complex elections, with multiple players, society is grappling with who they trust to run the state. They will make a choice tomorrow, but will have to wait a month to know their new rulers.