In the Kutba-Kutbi villages, where eight persons were killed during last September’s devastating riots, there is a striking presence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) colours on the eve of polling day. At almost every crossing, the party flag is seen hoisted and most homes have BJP emblems plastered on their walls.
“It is difficult to spot anything else here,” says a senior police officer who was on duty at the polling centre in the village, one of the 627 stations declared ‘critical’ in the constituency.
Even seven months after the riots, Muslims of this village — who had fled to save their lives — are yet to return home. Locked doors and deserted animal sheds mark their absence.
Despite the time period, the bitterness is evident. Most of the people belonging to the Jat community in this village are opposed to the Muslims’ return.
The Jats feel that ‘innocent’ youth of their community were named in the first information reports (FIR), while the mischief mongers from the minority community were left ‘scot free’ by the SP government.
However, there were rare sympathisers like Gajendra Singh. “Despite repeated pleas from us, they [the Muslims] just won’t agree to return home,” he .
With communal polarisation setting in, the collective Jat mind in the village is unanimously made up to vote for Sanjeev Baliyan, the BJP candidate who was named in the FIR of last year’s violence. “He’s our own,” said Mr. Singh, referring to the candidate’s community. The choice for the Jats is made easier as the RLD has not fielded any candidate due to its alliance with the Congress.
Around 5 kilometres away, 150 riot-affected Muslim families from Kutba-Kutbi still live at the Bassi Kalan relief camp in deplorable conditions.
Unable to build a house for themselves, each family still lives in a jhuggi (tent). “Some are us still haven’t received compensation. Those who did spent it on buying plots. Now we have nothing,” said Akbari, a riot victim.
The victims still reel under the trauma of last year’s violence. “We tremble when we think of that village,” said Mehdudan, bursting into tears.
Despite the poor living conditions and the fear, they were not dismayed from casting their electoral rights. “We will surely vote,” said Akbari. The administration has arranged voting for them at their spot of rehabilitation. Muzaffarnagar District Magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma said 6000 riot victims in the district had been identified as eligible voters, of which 3500 had registered themselves at places of their rehabilitation.
To ensure their safety during polling, the administration has beefed up security with the deployment of central paramilitary forces at some critical centres.
While the BJP is the front runner in Kutba-Kutbi, at Bassi Kalan, the dominant colour is of the Samajwadi Party, with numerous flags being hoisted on top of the tents.
Jabbar, who ferries clothes, says he is “grateful” to the SP for coming to their help after the riots. Tasleem, who was forced to quit his studies, swears that the “entire camp” will vote for the SP. “Nobody from the BSP visited the camps till today. Kadir Rana went missing first few weeks after the riots,” he said, referring to the BSP candidate and sitting MP there.