At a public meeting during Mriganka Singh’s election campaign, held in the village of Dakheda in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district, on 19 May, Surjan Singh, a BJP leader from the village, addressed the gathering of over 200 people. “Ab humare Hindu bhai aur sabhi log surakshit hain.” (Now our Hindu brothers and all others are safe.) Mriganka is the BJP candidate in the upcoming bypoll, on 28 May, for the Kairana seat in the Lok Sabha, which fell vacant after Hukum Singh, her father and the former member of parliament from the constituency, died in February this year. Surjan continued, “Sarkar Muzaffarnagar dango ke sabhi galat mukadme wapis le rahi hai.” (The government is withdrawing the false cases of the Muzaffarnagar riots.) “Ab Hindu nahi, gunde yahan se palayan kar rahe hain, aur jo nahi jaa rahe unko Yogi ji golion se bhoon kar upar bhej rahe hain” (Now, instead of Hindus, the goons are leaving Kairana, and Yogi is showering bullets to kill those who are not leaving.)
A seven-time member of the legislative assembly, Hukum—popularly known in the area as “Babuji”—had a controversial record as a legislator. In 2013, he was named in acase arising out of the Muzzaffarnagar riots, on allegations of inciting communal violence through provocative speeches. In June 2016, one year before state elections, Hukum stirred communal tensions in Kairana by releasing a list of 346 members of Hindu families who had allegedly fled the town. He claimed that they had leftbecause they feared the Muslim residents who resettled in Kairana after the Muzzaffarnagar riots.Though the claims were debunked by several subsequent investigative reports—which revealed that the allegations were exaggerated and that many residents, including Muslims, had migrated from the town due to economic pressures—Mriganka’s campaign is echoing a similar communal rhetoric.
Residents of the Dakheda village, situated around 25 kilometres from Kairana town , are predominantly from the Thakur, Banjara, and Jaat communities. Dozens of BJP flags lined the boundary walls of the village pradhan, Kuldeep Singh’s house. Mriganka arrived at Dakhedain the afternoon along with aconvoy of over 10 SUVs and throngs of supporters. As she greeted the residents of the village, chants of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Babuji Amar Rahein” broke out. Shortly after, Mriganka and her supporters headed towards the nearby community building, where the public meeting was to be held.
At the meeting, a few BJP leaders from the Shamli district took the stage before Mriganka addressed the crowd. While Mriganka herself refrained from expressing any communal rhetoric, the other party leaders exercised no such restraint. During his speech, Kuldeep, too, rehashed the allegations raised by Hukum. “Even in Muzaffarnagar riots, all the cases were filed in Kairana, that too against Hindu brothers. Why? No riots happened here.” He continued,“All the rehabilitation colonies were built in Kairana. Why? Because they only know how to increase their numbers and engage in hooliganism.”
The communally-charged speeches by the BJP leaders received loud, positive reactions from the crowd. During her address to the gathering, Ruby Chaudhary, a BJP leader and the pradhan of the nearby Bajhedi village in Shamli, asked the crowd, “Toh yeh seat kiski hai?” (Whose seat is this?) The crowd yelled back almost in unison, “Babuji ki beti ki.” But the village pradhan added a word of caution during his speech, urging the crowd to go out and vote on 28 May.“Please don’t think that your party has enough support so your vote is not needed,” he said.“This is what happened in Phoolpur and Gorakhpur.” Kuldeep added that BJP would win BJP Kairana through “saam, daam, dand aur bhed” (by hook or by crook).
Abhay Tomar, the Shamli district president of the BJP Yuva Morcha—the youth wing of the BJP—said, “We don’t do politics of religion—our schools, hospitals and roads are being used by everyone, be it Muslims or Hindu.” He added,“Eighty percent of power connections distributed under our Ujala scheme were taken by Muslims.” But according to Tomar, the same could not be said of the schemes introduced during the term of the previous government led by the Samajwadi Party. “What they have given you—scholarships?” he asked. “The only beneficiaries of that scholarship were Alma and Salma. Have you ever heard of any Deepa getting it?”
For the forthcoming bypoll, the four main opposition parties in the state—the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and Samajwadi Party—have rallied behind a united candidate, Tabassum Hasan. Tabassum was elected to the Lok Sabha from a BSP ticket in 2009, after which she joined the SP in 2012, and will be contesting the upcoming bypoll on an RLD ticket. During the meeting in Dakheda, Ajay Singhal, a senior BJP leader from Shamli, attacked the opposition parties and their performance in the constituency.
He asked the crowd, “Kya diya hai RLD ne Kairana ko siva Musalmanon ko badhawa dene ke?” (What has the RLD given to Kairana except for advancing the Muslims? Singhal continued to question the RLD’s association with Muslim politicians: “Abir Alam, Munawwar Hassan, Amir Alam aur ab yeh Tabassum, sab RLD ki den hai. Kisano ki party ho ke aur Jaaton ka samarthan karne wali party bann ke, isne aaj tak koi Jaat leader banaya hai?”(All of them are RLD’s handouts. Despite being a party of the farmers with the support of the Jaat community, have they ever put forward any Jaat leader?) Singhal claimed that “hooliganism in Kairana is all because of Muslims and goons produced by SP and RLD.” He added,“Now as the two are together, everyone is aware what the condition of the town would be if they will vote for them.”
Mriganka was the last speaker to address the crowd. Her address was the shortest of all the speeches, and lasted for less than two minutes, during which she invoked the memory of her father and sought votes. “Babuji is not here with us today but he will see making you win his daughter from heaven,” she said. Echoing Kuldeep’s request, she ended her speech calling upon the attendees to “go out to vote before you eat and make it a 98 percent turnout.”
After the visit to Dakheda, Mriganka had another public gathering scheduled in the village of Shamli Shamla, around four kilometres away. The speeches at Shamli Shamla contained a communal rhetoric similar to that witnessed in Dakheda. When I reached the village, Mriganka was yet to arrive. Kuldeep Toli, another BJP leader from Shamli district, was addressing the gathering. He began by addressing the crowd with a chant of“Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and followed by “Jai Shree Ram.”
Soon into his speech, Toli referred to the opposition candidate Tabassum’s son, Nahid Hasan. “I hope you know Dudheda village in Shamli where Nahid’s uncle lives,” he said.“There is another village nearby known as Hanthakhedi, which is a Kashyap caste dominated village.” As Toli continued to recount a story, he made little effort to be subtle about the polarising elements of his speech. “In 2014, a woman was killed after Hindu community performed the ghudchadi ritual before the commencement of a wedding. You very well know who killed her and why.”
Toli added that the police organised a panchayat in the village school, during which the superintendent of police of Shamli city solicited suggestions from the attendees on maintaining peace within the village. “As our Hindu brothers are very shy, no one gathered the courage to speak, while four–five Muslim boys raised their hands and sought permission to suggest ways,” Toli added. According to him, the boys said, “Inn gaon walo ko bolo puja na karein, mandiron mein tale laga dein, ghudchadi na karein, navratro mein jagrata na karein, savan me kawar na nikale—bas bani rahegi shanti.” (Tell the villagers to not conduct puja, to lock their temples, to not conduct the ghudchadi ritual, to not hold jagratas during the navratras, to stop the Kawariyas—and peace will be maintained.)
As the crowd, seemingly seething in anger, began cussing Muslims, Toli raised another slogan: “Bhaiyon, yeh toh kehte hi hain ki Pakistan hass ke liya. Ab Hindustan lad ke lenge.” (Brothers, they keep saying that they took Pakistan with a smile. Now we will take Hindustan with a fight.)
Ishita Mishra is a UP-based crime and political journalist with a penchant for human-interest stories.