Lok Sabha Election

Bahraich reveals communal and political faultlines of U.P.

Seeking redress Noor Hasan and his family in Nanpara. He was one of the five Muslims booked under the NSA.  

Aslam and Noor Hasan were recently set free after more than 14 months behind bars. They were among the five Muslims slapped with the stringent National Security Act by the Yogi Adityanath government for alleged involvement in a clash between two communities over the change of route of the Barawafat procession taken out to mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed. The incident took place in the Nanpara area of this backward district, which borders Nepal, in December 2017. Both men, who had a hand-to-mouth existence and were the main breadwinners of their families, claim they were falsely implicated, and accuse the BJP government of communal vendetta. While Aslam sells bangles, Noor used to sell fish but after the incident is struggling to make ends meet at a brick kiln.

However, they also resent the incumbent MP Savitri Bai Phule for failing to protect Dalits and allegedly siding with the majoritarian side. She is herself a Dalit.

“I was at my store when the incident happened. We were falsely implicated but not once she came to visit us or seek our welfare. She visited the other side, and even distributed saris and ration to their women but always drove past our area like we didn’t exist,” said Noor Hasan seated on a cot in his simple brick-house in Ghurgutta village.

Ms. Phule strategically picked December 6 (2018) to quit the BJP — the day marking the Babri Masjid demolition and the death anniversary of Bhimrao Ambedkar — in a bid to connect with Dalits and Muslims, and pitched her fight as one to save the Constitution. She has been fielded by the Congress this time. However, her past with the BJP could hurt her image among the Muslims, who are in large numbers in Bahraich. More than 45 Muslims were arrested in the Nanpara incident, and many of them were booked under the stringent SC/ST Act, creating communal fissures.

Controversial comments

But that is not the only grievance Muslims have against Ms. Phule. In the main market of Nanpara, they also recall controversial comments made by her to provoke the minority.

Mohammad Nassirudin, who sells iron products, says Ms. Phule claimed to turn “Bahraich into Gujarat” and threatened to damage the shrine of Salar Ghazi, revered by both Hindus and Muslims. Even Mohammad Rais Khan, a Congress supporter, is put off by her candidature and prefers the SP. “If we vote her, it’s like voting the BJP,” he said.

In Bahraich, locked in a three-way contest, there is another factor pushing the Muslims towards the SP, apart from the winnability of the SP-BSP alliance and the backing of the Jatavs and Yadavs. It is SP candidate Shabbir Ahmed Valmiki, who despite being a Dalit Hindu, flaunts an identifiable Muslim first name.

A four-time MLA and runner-up in 2014, Mr. Valmiki is considered accessible and amiable by both Hindus and Muslims. But his political career has been marked by controversies over his identity, which acts as a double-edged sword in a communally polarised environment.

Mr. Valmiki’s father married thrice to have a child and when he was born, gave him away to a Muslim family as a ritual to ward off evil spirits. The couple named him Shabbir Ahmed, a name that stuck on but due to which he later had to endure a legal battle, successfully though, after he won his first local body election in 1989. He was challenged for contesting on a reserved seat with a Muslim name. So which identity does be want to flaunt today? Hindu or Muslim? None but his caste.

“I am from the Valmiki (Dalit) community. Everybody knows that,” he said in the middle of a hectic door-to-door campaign in a Muslim pocket. “Every caste and community is with us. Hindu Muslim Sikh Christian...”

Sources said the SP was trying to cash in on the alleged persecution of Muslims in the district under the Adityanath rule — not just Ghurgutta, the State police had also controversially booked 200 Muslim men in Khair village under the UAPA — by attaching equal blame on Ms. Phule.

Vote split

But Sabir Ali Khan, a prominent farmer, argues that due to the communal divide, Ms. Phule is more likely to get the Hindu votes and defeat BJP. “Shabbir won’t get Hindu votes,” said Mr. Khan, revealing that he preferred a national party like the Congress in general elections.

In 2014, Ms. Phule, the saffron-clad Pasi leader, who has now taken a big turn to vocally criticise the BJP government for being anti-Dalit, received 4.32 lakh votes, while Mr. Valmiki got 3.36 lakh. The Congress’s sitting MP (2009) Kamal Kishore “Commando” only managed 24,000 votes.

This time, this reserved seat is witnessing a tight three-way contest. The BJP’s Akshayvar Lal Gond, a five-time MLA and present Balha legislator, is also in the fray.

Across the constituency, the OBCs and non-Jatav Dalit's were largely behind Mr. Modi. Be it the Nishad who sold fish near Chittora lake praising Mr. Modi for providing toilets and new pucca homes to the poor or Bhura Biswakarma who argues that the two instalments of ₹2,000 (PM-KISAN) and power connection he received had won Mr. Modi his vote.

“No other government gave us anything. Mr. Modi has promised if elected again he will do more,” said Mr. Bhura, returning from Mr. Modi’s rally in Nanpara on Tuesday. The BJP is also banking on the division of Muslim votes.

In his speech, Mr. Modi played up the caste discrimination card, accusing the previous SP and BSP governments of depriving others than their “vote bank” of power supply.

He also sought to appease the Dalit identity by declaring he was inspired by Maharaja Suheldev and would replicate his model of governance and security of nation.

Suheldev is a medieval-era Bhar-Pasi chieftain whom the BJP-RSS have over the years aggressively tried to portray as a Hindutva warrior who stopped the march of Muslim invader Ghazi Mian and halted Islamisation of the region.

“Only we are doing Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas,” Mr. Modi said, arguing that people of all castes received toilets cooking gas and bank accounts without discrimination.

But a section of Dalits, in particular the Pasis, are unhappy that Ms. Phule was denied a ticket. “It happened because she is of a lower caste. Only Brahmin, Thakur and Kurmis are being promoted,” said Shyam Lal Rawat, a Pasi labourer in Beira village, located close to the temple of Suheldev.

Mr. Rawat is also angry that the BJP did not beautify the area housing Suheldev's temple and Chittaura lake surrounding it despite promises. “I am voting for the Congress,” he said.

The BJP could also face losses in the Kurmi community. Dileep Verma, former MLA and husband of current MLA Madhuri Verma, was sent to jail last year after he assaulted a tehsildar. Local Kurmi groups launched a stir against the Yogi Adityanath government and things became calm only after the CM himself intervened.

The incumbent Ms. Phule's campaign has focused on protecting the constitution but also projecting the minimum income guarantee scheme of the Congress.  “If you faced trouble because of me, I beg for your forgiveness. But for your own interest, the future of India and to get Rs. 72,000 annually, vote for the Congress,” she told a nukkad meeting on Tuesday. 

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 8:27:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/bahraich-reveals-communal-and-political-faultlines-of-up/article27016110.ece

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