Renowned as the birthplace of Abdul Karim Khan, one of the foremost proponents of the Kirana gharana, Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh is making music of a different kind in the run-up to the Assembly elections. With Prabha Atre, the senior-most practitioner of the gharana being conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the town’s musical heritage is once again jostling with its present-day political notoriety.
“Our election is being fought in courts,” said Mohd. Salahuddin, elder brother of Aleem, one of the 24 people who died in clashes with the Uttar Pradesh police during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in December 2019.
“Yogiji [Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath] keeps raising the issue of Muzaffarnagar riots but who will compensate for the lives lost in the CAA protests during his tenure,” he asked.
In any riot, he said, people of two communities kill each other but here it is the State that opened fire and the responsibility has not yet been fixed. “Had it happened with non-Muslims, a proper investigation would have been conducted and an FIR lodged against guilty police officers,” said Salahuddin, resident of Lisadi Gate area of Meerut.
“We have evidence and witnesses but the case is moving at a slow pace. The NHRC team has recorded our statements, has questioned the official version but its report is still pending,” he said.
Mr. Salahuddin, who is differently abled, said he could understand the electoral compulsions of Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, but he could at least question the police action at his rallies and ask why did the police fire at the chest and heads of people, even if they were rioters.
After Union Home Minister Amit Shah kicked off the BJP’s poll campaign from Kairana last Saturday, political observers said it was becoming clear that the BJP was trying to return to power in Uttar Pradesh by linking crime in the region to one community while fostering the fear of Muslim appeasement if the SP returned to power.
On the same day, in Aligarh and Bulandshahr – where the SP-Rashtriya Lok Dal combine has put up Muslim candidates – Yogi Adityanath said the BJP had prevented Kairana from turning into another Kashmir.
In Ghaziabad, he said, while the previous government built a Haj House, his government built Mansarovar Bhavan for pilgrims.
While the BJP leaders describe these references as an assertion of an improved law and order situation and a moving away from the politics of appeasement during the BJP rule, observers put this as an attempt to further alienate Muslims from electoral politics.
If Nahid Hasan, the SP candidate from Kairana, has been booked under several sections and the Gangsters Act, BJP candidate Mriganka Singh is facing a case under sections 406, and 506 of IPC.
Rakesh Sharma, senior journalist with a vernacular newspaper, said Mr. Shah’s exodus pitch was not meant just for the constituency but for western U.P. “It should be seen in alignment with the clampdown on the stolen cars market in Meerut’s Sotiganj area. In Kairana, it was the issue of rangdari (extortion) that affected both Hindus and Muslims. Businessmen were killed in broad daylight and criminals found patronage of the leadership of one particular party,” said Mr. Sharma, explaining how a law and order issue got a communal tinge.
However, a senior police officer who has served in the region, said the crackdown on Sotiganj’s infamous Haji Galla and family was a routine exercise and happened whenever a strict police officer took charge.
“We were surprised when it found mention in the PM’s speech twice,” he added.
Observers said for nearly three decades, Meerut has been a BJP bastion and mention of law and order could only backfire.
Old-timers pointed out that Munawwar Hasan, father of the incumbent Nahid Hasan, and Hukum Singh, father of BJP candidate Mriganka Singh, shared a healthy rivalry.
“Both hail from the Gurjar community and khap and have affiliations across the religious divide. It all boils down to the control of resources. From sand and land to forest, all kinds of mafia operate in the region. After Hukum Singh’s death, Nahid had a grip on the businesses. The administration is after him and the BJP is giving it a communal colour,” said Sokhendra Chaudhary, a farmer leader supporting the SP-RLD.
Interestingly, both Mr. Hasan and his sister Iqra studied abroad but have seamlessly blended with the local populace.
The BJP, said observers, deliberately picked the SP as its principal opponent with the hope that Mr. Yadav would speak on Muslim issues in the elections. When the SP chose to break into the OBC caste calculus and kept Muslim faces away, the BJP got slightly rattled, they said.
Recently, the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an RSS affiliate, reached out to the community and criticised the hate speech made at the Haridwar’s Dharam Sansad. Apna Dal (Sonewal), BJP’s alliance partner, has put up a Muslim candidate in Suar constituency of Rampur.
Data with the Delhi-based Centre for The Study of Developing Studies suggest that 8-10% of Muslims voted for the BJP in the last two Lok Sabha elections.
Jamal Siddiqui, president of the BJP minority cell, said they aim to up this figure to 25%. By giving a “riot and goonda free” administration, Mr. Adityanath has emerged as a ‘messiah’ for Muslims in the State.
“Saffron is also the colour of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti,” he said, adding that the Opposition was deliberately misinterpreting statements and actions.
On the CM’s 80 vs 20 statement, he said, “Mr. Yogi only meant that 80% of the electorate is with the BJP. The 20% are the mafia and the power-seekers.”
The Centre and State governments have not discriminated against the Muslims, said Mr. Siddiqui, praising Mr. Adityanath for introducing modern education in madrasas.
Mr. Siddiqui said Kairana was chosen because it was “a weak constituency”. “Instead of seeing it from a communal angle, look at it as part of electoral strategy,” he said.
Mirza Asmer Beg, professor of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University, said the cosmetic overtures were not meant for Muslims but those in the majority community who were not ready to buy the party’s polarising pitch. “I don’t think the numbers indicate an ideological affinity towards the BJP. It is just that certain candidates command acceptance across social groups,” he said.
The reality, he said, was there was no difference left between the so-called fringe and the top BJP leadership. “The CM started with the abba jaan jibe, moved to 80 vs 20 remark and is now suggesting that the electorate sift the ballot paper on religious grounds.”
The electoral distancing is also reflecting in social behaviour. Mohd. Khalid, an insurance agent in Ghaziabad, said in the last couple of months, he was told apne bhaiyon se policy karwayenge (We will get the policy done by our brothers). “This was not the case earlier as I have hundreds of non-Muslim clients,” he said.
Bhagwan Swaroop, an electrician from Lodha block in Aligarh working in the NCR, said, Muslims could live comfortably in a Hindu locality, but Muslims don’t allow Hindu families to live peacefully in Muslim-majority areas when non-BJP governments rule the State.
Mr. Swaroop said the first thing that he did after reaching home was to turn on the news channels. “I get a sense that the BJP is the only party that is working for desh hit (national interest).”