Sangeet Som has injured his left hand. Wrapped in plaster, he is sitting on a charpoy in the Thakur-dominated Kapsad village of his constituency, Sardhana, as elderly men gather around him.
Som has been implicated in the Muzaffanagar riots of 2013. He was accused of stoking communal tensions in Dadri’s Bisada village after the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq. And last week, he was hauled up for distributing campaign CDs with provocative statements.
But the injury has not deterred his aggression.
When asked why he always gets associated with issues of communal polarisation, he replies, “If there is exploitation of a community, and I stand up with them, is it being communal?” Som then goes on the offensive. “If SP (Samajwadi Party), to be in power, is with only one group and oppresses another group, should we not stand and protect them?”
The group SP is alleged to stand for are the Muslims; and the group Som is protecting are the Hindus. If there were any doubts, a campaign van outside Som’s house in Sardhana puts it to rest. A poster, with an image of PM Narendra Modi, proclaims loudly, “Hindu ki pehchan, Sangeet Som.”
Away from the discourse of ‘vikas’, here in west Uttar Pradesh, it is raw politics of religion that is dictating elections 2017.
The narrative of ‘appeasement’
Asked for tangible proof that SP stands only for one community, Som says, “Why does Mulayam Singh have to say that SP has become anti-Muslim? Does it mean you only worked for Muslims? That is why there have been 430 riots in UP.”
Som then lists out instances, which have have become a part of the BJP’s political messaging on the ground.
“SP has made boundary walls for graveyards; why have they not made it for crematoriums and Ram-Leela grounds?” He adds, “SP has spent thousands of crores to make Haj-houses for Muslims in Ghaziabad. One, why do you need it in UP? Those who have to go for Haj can take a plane and go. But even if they have to make it, why have they not made Kavad-houses for our pilgrims?”
He also highlights a decision to give Rs 30,000 to girls who have passed high school, and alleges that girls from ‘only one community’ get it. “Hindu girls don’t receive it. Do a survey.” And then he accuses (SP leader) Azam Khan of not reciting the Vande Mataram and calling Bharat Mata a ‘witch’.
Court and religion
Som then levels a similar accusation at BSP. “Why did Mayawati and Naseemuddin Siddiqui say they are giving so many tickets to Muslims? Why are they using the Muslim word repeatedly, when the Supreme Court has said you cannot ask for votes on religion.”
The irony, of having his own campaign posters directly associated with a religious identity, was perhaps lost on Som.
Hindustan Times asked him if it was the case that other parties were pursuing Muslim politics, wasn’t he pursuing Hindu politics?
“No, they divide and we unite.” But if the charge is the other parties do not speak of Hindus, isn’t it true that leaders like Som never speak of Muslims? “I was born in Hindu religion and this is a matter of pride for me. And if I do not talk about the religion I was born in, what will I do? “
When asked about his position on Dadri killing, where Akhlaq was lynched for allegedly having beef, Som says that one person was killed, and he deserves justice.
But he is quick to add, “But there should be no appeasement. A government lab has shown it was cow meat. You have to see the matter behind the killing. When cow slaughter and beef consumption is a crime in UP, why are you supporting criminals?”
But how was a killing justified? Som responded, “It is not justified. Punish those who killed. But should those who killed the cow not be punished? What punishment has the government given them?” Instead, he charged the government of aiding them.
Outside Som’s house in Sardana, donning a BJP symbol, Raj Kumar Saini, a young supporter, told HT that this election was about justice. “Hindu boys are in jail. Hindu girls have been raped. BJP and Sangeet Som will win and end Muslim rule.”