Prime Minister Narendra Modi will mark two years of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at a rally in Saharanpur on Thursday, a strategic district that could turn the BJP’s political fortunes when Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls next year.
But even before the event, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have scored a point: Muslims in the area have agreed to host Modi’s rally on their lands.
A large portion of the rally site, especially where the PM’s MI helicopter will land and the stage from where he will address his audience, belongs to Muslims hailing from the minority-dominated Chunati Gada village.
Saharanpur is a politically key area as Muslims are spread across the seven assembly constituencies in the district. However, they remain polarised owing to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots --- triggered by rumours in the wake of Jat-Muslim clashes --- that resulted in more than 60 deaths and left thousands homeless.
Though Muslims are not the BJP’s traditional vote base, Munawar Ali is excited to have the PM in their area. “He is our Prime Minister. And we are happy that our PM is going to arrive on our land,” said Ali, a resident.
Mohammad Farhad, the husband of the Chunati Gada village head, agrees, but cautiously.
“See, as PM we welcome him. In this capacity, he isn’t a leader of any party. He is the leader of the nation. But yes, we may have a different view when it comes to casting our vote,” he said.
Saffron strategists are aware of the mood, and have been working to ensure to strike the right chord.
BJP party cadres visited Chunati Gada to invite Muslims to the rally where the weeklong ‘Vikas Parv’ will be launched to mark two years of the Modi government, BJP leader Ashwani Tyagi said. About a dozen NDA ministers are also expected to attend the event.
“We stand by ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’. Those who wish to join us are welcome. We seek the support of one and all,” said another BJP leader, Chandramohan.
The national party is aware that winning over a majority of the community is a mammoth task, so they need to polarise which way the non-BJP votes go.
Saharanpur is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s bastion which shares its boundary with BJP-ruled Haryana and Congress-ruled Uttarakhand. The BSP holds four of the seven assembly seats in the district. Party chief Mayawati had also once contested polls from Haroda (now Saharanpur rural).
The BJP is focusing on denting the BSP’s hold. In the past week, it has managed two defections from Mayawati’s party. Three days after former Saharanpur MP Jagdish Rana joined the BJP, former BSP minister Vinod Tejiyan also switched sides.
A BJP insider said that more BSP leaders are expected to embrace the BJP closer to the elections.
Rana’s younger brother, Mahavir Rana, is a sitting BSP MLA from Behat, which is the first of the 403 assembly segments in Uttar Pradesh.
Tejiyan says there is growing discontent within the BSP and the BJP is increasing in strength.
“Yes, frustration is growing within the BSP. Support for the BJP is growing,” he said.
Keshav Prasad Maurya, the Uttar Pradesh BJP chief in whose presence Tejiyan joined the party, said: “It’s because of this that we are sure of achieving our mission 265 plus,” said
At Thursday’s rally, Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who has consistently opposed previous BSP-BJP tie-ups, will accompany the PM. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is also scheduled to attend where party workers expect at least 200,000 people.
However, a local political observer said the real battle will depend on how BJP tackles the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP).
“While the BJP has been attacking the BSP and the Congress, which also holds two seats after winning the recent Deoband assembly by-poll, it remains to be seen if the PM, whose government has largely been treating the UP’s SP government with kid gloves so far, steps up the heat on the state’s ruling party,” he said.