At first glance, Kairana belies its status as the epicenter of a political storm in Uttar Pradesh. No political banner, poster or campaign material can be seen in this seemingly non-descriptive town in western Uttar Pradesh. But step into the Kairana bazaar and the consciousness of a high-profile constituency under scanner seeps through.
Kairana has 80% Muslim voters and stands accused of engineering the exodus of Hindus residents.
Kairana’s tryst with notoriety began in August 2014 when eight bike-borne men came to a shop in the bazaar and shot dead Vinod Kumar Singhal. His mother Brijrani tells News18 that the family has no idea why their son was targeted, but the incident left them scarred.
“We decided to leave Kairana. Who can risk the lives of small children? We had even finalised a house in Panipat, Haryana,” says Brijrani. The Singhal family ended up not leaving, but the murder and threats reportedly forced many other families to migrate.
Former BJP MP Hukum Singh had alleged that more than 300 families migrated, calling it an “exodus under threat”. Locals, however, peg the number of families who migrated at less than 10, clarifying that the majority of those in Singh’s initial list were families who left for reasons like employment.
While different figures are thrown around on the exact number of migrations, there is consensus that an atmosphere of fear prevailed in Kairana, which seems to have eased in the last five years.
“I have been running my business for more than 30 years now. In the Samajwadi Party regime, there used to be murders in broad daylight. It is only now that we live in peace,” Kairana Vyapar Mandal president Anil Kumar Gupta tells News18.
The wall of Gupta’s toy shop is adorned with pictures of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Congress leaders Raj Babbar and Harish Rawat. He points to these to claim that he is apolitical and his comments do not have any political tilt.
Ayub Mansuri, a fellow businessman and office bearer of the Vyapar Mandal, agrees that things have changed for the better as far as law and order situation in Kairana is concerned.
“100% pehle bhay ka mahaul tha (There was an atmosphere of fear earlier),” he says, but adds that the fear or the murders were not communal in nature.
Sandeep Sharma, a shopkeeper, nods in agreement. “Sabhi varg ke liye bhay ka mahaul tha. Gundagardi sabke liye tha. Dar lagta tha ki kab loot le (All sections were scared. Anyone could have been the target of goons and looting),” he says.
Does that make law and order the central issue for businessman in Kairana? Opinions differ.
“If the business community supports the BJP, improved law and order will be a huge factor for that decision,” says Anil Gupta.
Ayub Mansuri, however, feels that employment is the central issue. “Jahan tak kanoon vyavastha ka sawal hai, wo behter hua hai. Lekin rozgar ek bahut bada mudda hai (Law and order has improved but employment is still a huge issue),” Mansuri says.
Mohammed Akhtar also says he is unsure if law and order will be the deciding factor. “I can’t say if law and order will be the deciding factor, but I can tell you that things in Kairana today are very good,” the elderly shopkeeper says.
With inputs from News18