Campaigning in Domariyaganj was never so grave. Candidates in this east UP Lok Sabha constituency, averse to burying the hatchet, appear to be dead on with graveyards. They seldom miss an opportunity to join a burial ceremony and read the marsiya (elegy) along with the family members of the deceased.
The social service ends with what matters most — distributing pamphlets and seeking the support of mourners and gravediggers — in this constituency where the fight for 3.5 lakh Muslim votes is intense.
Vying for the seat are sitting MP Jagdambika Pal of BJP, Mata Prasad Pandey of SP, Mohammad Muqeem of BSP, Vasundhara of Congress, Mohammad Ayub of Peace Party and NCP’s Hamidullah Chaudhary. They are using all tricks in the book to woo the Muslims, who hold the key.
“Pal gave a mobile set with free SIM card to all the gravediggers in the constituency,” says Mohammad Taslim of Lautan village. Before starting work for a burial, the gravediggers call Pal’s public relations officer to inform him about the arrival of a body.
The information is immediately passed on to Pal, who rushes to the kabristan along with his supporters to express sorrow over the loss of live, participate in the prayer and leave after the body is buried.
SP and BSP rivals adopted Pal’s strategy, adding gifts to handsets. “The political parties were never concerned about out plight. Now, they are coming to the graveyards and wooing us,” says Mohammad Bakar, a gravedigger.
Besides donning skull caps to mix with Muslims, the candidates are also joining ‘mundan’ (tonsuring) and marriage ceremonies of Hindus. Each has created a separate cell to collect information about death, birth, marriage and other ceremonies across the constituency.
“This is because each vote is important,” says Ramkumar Verma, supporter of the SP candidate.
Domariyaganj has 2.50 lakh Brahmin, 2 lakh Dalits and 3 lakh backward caste voters. “One has to strike a right balance to win here,” says Sushil Kumar, a political observer, adding Muslims are as important to BJP, BSP and SP as the upper castes and Dalits.
Beyond the commiseration at graveyards and cordiality at marriages, the parties are battling their own demons. If BJP is trying to keep dissension — many are annoyed that Pal, a turncoat from Congress, was chosen over local MLA Jai Pratap Singh who the party expelled a week ago — in check, SP is talking tough with disgruntled gram pradhans.
Singh’s wife Vasundhra, the Congress candidate, is also a worry for BJP. Both husband and wife are trying to wean away BJP supporters from Pal.