Uttar Pradesh 2017

With Jat-Muslim unity, Thana Bhawan rises above Shamli’s shame

Candidate of all: Sudhir Panwar, candidate of the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, campaigning in the Thana Bhawan constituency.  

“‘Aayee jab koi ghari imtehan ki/ Baazi lagai sada humne apni jaan ki/ hokar shaheed mulk per Abdul Hameed ne/ taareekh likh di apne khoon se Hindustan ki (‘Every time there is a test/ We have always sacrificed our lives/ Abdul Hameed wrote the history of Hindustan with his blood’),” says Ghayas Khan, a Muslim speaker to a gathering of over 200 people largely consisting of Jats, in a dimly lit courtyard of Hatthi Karonda, a Jat-dominated village in the Thana Bhawan constituency of the riot-affected Shamli district in western Uttar Pradesh.

The moment the speaker, who identifies himself as Ghayas Khan, completes reciting the poem highlighting the contribution of Muslims in nation-building, there is a round of claps and slogans raised for Muslim-Jat friendship by some passionate Jats and skull cap-clad Muslim elders in the audience.

After Mr. Khan comes Professor Sudhir Panwar, the Jat candidate from Thana Bhawan for the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress alliance, to address the patient gathering that had waited for two hours to listen to him.

“Look, I left the comfort of academia because I want to begin a new kind of politics that does not involve killing each other, which is about Jats and Muslims and everyone together, and which is defined by development and not communal politics, as it is by the sitting MLA,” he appealed, invoking cheers and claps.

Difficult to imagine

Jats and Muslims sitting together and talking about the pre-riots unity between the two communities is a picture that was difficult to imagine in the immediate aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots, but is now crucially indicative of changing political faultlines and shifting loyalties, seen for the first time in the last three years in the riot-affected region. What had become almost a dream and a distant memory for activists and Jat and Muslim elders working for communal harmony in the region is now being realised with the candidature of Professor Panwar as both a solid political equation and caste arithmetic favours him.

It is hard to conceive of Muslim support for a Jat candidate in riot-affected Shamli but, in the middle of a “pro-Akhilesh wave of support among Muslims”, Professor Panwar is also able to get decent support from the community, especially going by his meetings in villages like Garhi Pukhta, the biggest Muslim village in the constituency.

A change of heart

Similarly, Jats had never thought of voting for an SP candidate this time because of their anger against the SP for its allegedly partisan role during the riots. The community voted for Suresh Rana, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate who is also a riot accused, in the last Assembly elections. But because Professor Panwar is the first Jat candidate to be fielded by the SP in the last three decades, his fellow community members are inclined towards him.

Furthermore, there is widespread Jat anger against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the region. Two days ago, a large section of the influential battisa khap of Jats extended its support to Professor Panwar. But Professor Panwar is a political realist who reminds his audience about the importance of the Jat-Muslim combination.

“I would win only when you two, Muslims and Jats, come together like before and vote for me,” declares the professor of Zoology from Lucknow University to the mixed crowd, while trying to stitch together a political camaraderie that is difficult to pull off in any other Assembly constituency. Thana Bhawan has over 3,00,000 votes, of which one lakh are Muslim votes and 50,000 are Jat votes.

The support that Professor Panwar has been getting makes him “hopeful”.

“Jats feel cheated and exploited. Both Jats and Muslims want to start afresh because, if you remember, in the history of this region, the prosperity of western UP through the Green Revolution happened precisely because of Jat-Muslim unity,” Professor Panwar, who belongs to the Bhainswal village in Thana Bhawan, later told The Hindu during the campaign trail.

‘Huge potential’

He declared, “I am hopeful that if I become even 50% successful in bringing together Jats and Muslims via this election, then Thana Bhawan would be the one Assembly constituency in the entire communally sensitive western Uttar Pradesh where Jats and Muslims would vote together. It is the huge potential of the Jat-Muslim alliance here that has made the BJP candidate nervous. Because this time, he is not getting Jat votes.”

Professor Panwar added that the possibility of Mr. Rana’s victory without Jat votes would be “nil” as he won the 2012 Assembly elections by a margin of a mere 289 votes. That is why, “the BJP candidate started raking communally polarised issues,” said Professor Panwar, while referring to Mr. Rana’s statement that if he wins the elections again, curfew would be imposed in Kairana and Deoband, for which he was booked for hate speech.

The BSP factor

But Mr. Rana told The Hindu that he was confident of winning the polls on the basis of his record of speaking for “nationalists and doing work for the people”.

What complicates the evolving political scenario in Thana Bhawan is the candidature of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate Abdul Waris Khan, with the support of Muslims and the consolidated BSP vote bank of Jatavs behind him. As someone who lost to Mr. Rana by 3,718 votes, mainly due to the division of Muslim votes between him and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate in the 2012 Assembly polls, Mr. Waris commands sympathy from the Muslims. He says that the minority community has decided not to split votes this time and not to allow “the rabble rouser” to win.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 1:41:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-2017/With-Jat-Muslim-unity-Thana-Bhawan-rises-above-Shamli%E2%80%99s-shame/article17245334.ece

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