Polarisation before polling day: Is this becoming a pattern with BJP in UP?
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has tried to play the communal card in the run-up to the third phase of polling in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
In as many as four constituencies in Kanpur city, there have been reports of BJP workers shouting slogans such as “Pakistan Murdabad” and “We will teach a lesson to Pakistan's agents” on the final day of campaigning on Friday. Apparently, some of the sloganeering even took place after the time for campaigning had officially ended.
The BJP workers Catch spoke to maintained that this wasn't a violation of the code of conduct and that the slogans were “patriotic” and not political.
The choice of the constituencies where the slogans were shouted also seemed deliberate. Three out of the four constituencies have a high concentration of Muslims – Sishamau, Kanpur Cantonment and Arya Nagar.
In two of the seats, the BJP's main challenger is a Muslim candidate – Samajwadi Party's Haji Irfan Solanki in Sishamau and Sohil Akhtar Ansari of the Congress in Kanpur Cantonment.
In Arya Nagar, the BJP has been trying to mobilise support among the Hindu community citing the presence of Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the fray.
The fourth seat where the sloganeering reportedly took place is Kalyanpur, which had been a BJP stronghold until 2012.
Only a day before the sloganeering, firebrand BJP MP from Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath addressed a public meeting in Kalyanpur, in which he invoked the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and the 2015 riots that took place during Ramnavmi in Kanpur.
“The SP government allowed rioters to block the Ramnavmi procession. In Eastern UP, we crush such people even before they can do anything,” Adityanath said during his speech.
In Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's rally in Sishamau on Thursday, a few speakers are reported to have hurled abuses at the minority community.
From podiums to phones
The incendiary speeches and sloganeering in Kanpur wasn't all. Hate-filled WhatsApp messages were circulated on Friday and Saturday in Kanpur, Barabanki, Sitapur and Lucknow districts.
Some of the messages contained exaggerated, even fictionalised accounts of Hindus being targetted by Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and the SP administration turning a blind eye. Some of the messages also included stories of Hindu women being molested by Muslims.
This appears to have become a pattern in every phase of the UP Assembly elections. Even in the previous two phases, communally charged WhatsApp messages were circulated in the last two days before polling.
The murder of a Jat boy in Bijnor on 10 February was given a communal spin and the messages related to it went viral on WhatsApp hours before polling began in Western UP for the first phase on 11 February. The WhatsApp campaign intensified in the run-up to the second phase of polling on 15 February.
The third phase
12 districts of central Uttar Pradesh will be voting on Sunday 19 February. This includes the Awadh districts of Lucknow, Unnao, Hardoi, Sitapur and Barabanki and the Doab districts of Etawah, Mainpuri, Auraiya, Farrukhabad, Kannauj, Kanpur Nagar and Kanpur Dehat.
The Samajwadi Party has the most to lose in this phase as it won 55 out of the 69 seats in the 2012 elections. The party had won all the seats in its traditional strongholds of Etawah, Mainpuri, Kannauj and Auraiya. And this is the region where the party is facing its toughest challenge due to the feud in the Yadav family.
With Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle and senior party leader Shivpal Singh Yadav at cross-purposes, the SP is facing internal sabotage in several seats in this region. Sources say that Shivpal Yadav and his loyalists can harm the SP in as many as 12-15 seats, mostly in these four districts. Shivpal Yadav is facing sabotage in his own seat Jaswantnagar in Etawah district and this is benefiting BJP candidate Manish Yadav Patre.
In Barabanki district, senior SP leader Beni Prasad Verma is said to be working against the party as his son was denied a ticket by Akhilesh. This is supposedly driving a chunk of the SP's Kurmi votes towards the BSP.
The other major battle will be in Lucknow and Kanpur, which count for 19 seats put together, out of which nearly 12 seats are entirely urban. This is a make-or-break area for the BJP which needs to sweep the urban areas if it is to have a realistic chance of coming to power in UP. Watch out for the Lucknow Cantonment seat where Congress-turned-BJP leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi is facing Mulayam Singh Yadav's younger daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav.
But the popularity of CM Akhilesh Yadav is proving to be a powerful counter-narrative to the BJP in the cities. For Akhilesh, doing well in the urban areas is equally important as it enables him to carve a support base for himself that goes beyond the Yadav family bastions. It is not surprising that Kannauk MP and Akhilesh's wife Dimple Yadav emerged as a star campaigner in this phase.
Unlike the Jat and Muslim dominated first and second phases, OBCs will play a decisive role in the third phase. It will also be a litmus test for the BJP's outreach among non-Yadav OBCs as well as Akhilesh's efforts at wooing this section. Brahmin voters also hold the key in a number of seats, especially the urban constituencies.
In this phase, some confusion has been created in the Muslim community in Lucknow, Hardoi, Sitapur and Barabanki districts, with some Barelvi and Shia clerics reportedly asking voters to support the BSP. This is despite the fact that in a majority of seats, the SP-Congress alliance is the strongest non-BJP alternative.
This phase will decide whether the BSP has managed to secure Muslims outside its Western UP stronghold. Inputs from the ground suggest that the BSP is gaining ground among Muslims and non-Yadav OBCs, besides holding on to its Dalit base. If this indeed is the case, Mayawati could emerge as a silent winner in the elections.