Varun Gandhi has polarised popular opinion in Pilibhit, 300 km north of Lucknow, along communal lines. He is expected to contest the Lok Sabha polls from here on a BJP ticket.
Varun’s “cut off their hands” hate speech has been well received by most Hindu voters in Pilibhit, which returned his mother Maneka Gandhi to the Lok Sabha five times since 1989.
And most people here see nothing wrong in him distributing money to “needy people”. In fact, they equate this with the “larger cause looking after Hindus”. Muslims, however, are bitter, and hope to give him a “befitting reply”.
There’s a reason for this restiveness. Delimitation has changed the demographics of this constituency. About 2.9 lakh upper caste Hindu and Sikh voters of Powyan Assembly constituency, traditionally BJP supporters and earlier part of Maneka Gandhi’s pocket borough, are now part of the neighbouring Shahjahanpur seat.
And the Baheri Assembly seat, earlier part of Bareily, with 1.5 lakh Banjara Muslims, is now part of Pilibhit. Result: Muslims now constitute about one-third of Pilibhit’s 12.65 lakh voters, compared to less than 25 per cent earlier.
So, is Varun a malefactor or a messiah here? The answer will depend on whom you ask these questions. “Varun is helping Hindus and I see nothing wrong in it. The local MLA, Anis Ahmed Khan alias Phul Babu (of the BSP), who is the minority affairs minister in Maywati’s cabinet, is only concerned about his own community,” said Ravindra Kumar, 48, one of the alleged recipients of Varun’s largesse, who lives in the Hindu-dominated Durga Prasad locality of Bisalpur village. He vehemently denied having received any monetary support from the young BJP leader.
His neighbours, however confirmed he had, indeed, received Rs 10,000 from a Varun camp follower. “Ravindra is now denying this out of fear,” said Satyendra, who runs a tea stall nearby.
Leelawati, 55, and Amit Kumar 40, two others who allegedly received Rs 5,000 each from Varun, also denied receiving any cash from him.
Only Ramsanehi Bhujwal, 38, admitted to having received Rs 5,000. But he insisted the money was for the treatment of his handicapped 12-year-old son Manish and not for his vote.
In the nearby minority-dominated Ghyaspur locality, a large number of young men are standing at a crossing waiting for SP candidate Riyaz Ahmed to arrive. Many of them had voted for the BSP in the last Assembly elections. But this time, they’re rooting for the SP because “only Riyaz had guts to give befitting reply to Varun”.
The communal polarisation of Pilibhit is near-complete.