Sugarcane, riots, exodus. These are just a few of the issues that will highlight the Phase-I of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections which kicked off Thursday morning, with 58 seats up for grabs in Western UP. While the fate of several BJP heavyweights, including ministers, will be decided, the polls will also be a key test for the SP-RLD alliance and whether the parties manage to consolidate their traditional ‘vote banks’ in the areas.
Kairana has been at the centre of political squabble and has emerged as a critical point of focus in the UP polls. The BJP brought up the issue of ‘mass exodus’ from the region, against the Samajwadi Party.
Here, the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP has been chastised for re-nominating Nahid Hasan despite his involvement in multiple criminal cases involving fraud and extortion.
On January 15, Hasan was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police in a case filed under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act and remanded to judicial custody by the MP/MLA court.
“No one will forgive the SP for Kairana exodus. No one will forgive the SP for firing on Lord Ram devotees (a reference to firing at kar sevaks ordered by Mulayam Singh government in 1990). The Samajwadi Party only believes in riots,” Yogi Adityanath said during the interview at Gorakhpur Temple, hours after filing his nomination for Uttar Pradesh elections 2022 from his home turf.
Kairana remains a sensitive town since 2017 when BJP leaders, including then MP Hukum Singh, had alleged the “exodus” of Hindu families following alleged threats and harassment.
The CM said criminal elements in Kairana had been in hiding for 4.5 years but had started threatening traders again “after some parties promised and gave them election tickets”.
During election campaigning, the BJP and other opposition parties have regularly brought up the Muzaffarnagar riots. “Don’t the people of Kairana and Muzaffarnagar deserve development and security? Don’t the women deserve safety? It is the duty of every government do so. This is why I had said that March 10 ko sabki garmi utar jayegi (They will be set straight on March 10),” Adityanath said on the eve of his Saturday visit to Muzaffarnagar.
More than 60 people were killed and scores others injured in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 during riots between Muslims and Jats. Uttar Pradesh BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh had on Saturday posted a video clipping of Akhilesh Yadav wearing a skull cap, and claimed it ‘clearly showed’ with whom the former UP CM had ‘sided with’ during the Muzaffarnagar riots.
This constituency has also become a test case to see if farmers are willing to trust the SP-RLD coalition, amid their opposition to farm laws.
UP Cane Development Minister and two-term MLA Suresh Rana, lives in the Thana Bhawan constituency. The local community’s main complaint is that he hasn’t done enough to assist the area’s sugarcane farmers.
According to reports, farmers claim that, despite government charges, their local BJP MLA and Minister Rana could have done more to collect their dues from mills such as the Bajaj sugar mill in Thana Bhawan, which is one of the largest in West UP and a key source of sugarcane sales in Shamli.
Sugarcane is a big issue in these polls, on which the BJP has worked after taking over from the SP, by clearing dues amounting to Rs 1.5 lakh crore and marginally increasing the rates. “We cleared three time the dues in five years compared to the SP-BSP regimes in 10 years,” Rana had earlier told News18.
Among the Jats who grow sugarcane, this is some balm to their grouse with the BJP government for the inflation in diesel and power rates and a meagre hike in sugarcane rates.
Rana defeated the BSP’s Abdul Waris Khan in the 2017 elections by a margin of about 50,000 votes out of nearly 2 lakh total votes cast. However, in the 2012 election, he received only 265 votes against RLD nominee Ashraf Ali, who has now returned to challenge him.
Sangeet Som, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, has given a ticket by the BJP. On September 20, 2013, he was arrested for allegedly uploading a fake video that contributed to communal tensions. Because of the impact of the farmers’ unrest and the perception of anti-incumbency, this is being viewed as an interesting contest, reports state.
The Atrauli Assembly seat, which is part of the Aligarh district, is critical for the BJP’s hopes of repeating its performance in western Uttar Pradesh in 2017. The ruling party has placed its trust in Sandeep Singh, the grandson of the late Kalyan Singh, who was elected in 2017. Viresh Yadav is the SP candidate, while Dharmendra Lodhi is the Congress candidate. Sandeep is one of the few low-profile ministers in Yogi Adityanath’s government who has avoided controversy during his tenure.
Noida is being seen as a prestigious seat for the BJP because Defence Minister and former UP Chief Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj Singh is running for re-election from here.
Yogesh Dhama is the current BJP MLA and will be challenged by Ahmad Hameed of the SP-RLD alliance and Anil Dev Tyagi of the Congress. After a fake Twitter post by Jayant Chaudhary went viral against Hameed, the seat was thrust into the spotlight.
Shrikant Sharma, the ruling government’s power minister, is the BJP’s candidate in Mathura, while former MLA Devendra Agarwal is the Samajwadi Party’s candidate. Pradeep Mathur has been nominated by the Congress for the seat. While the seat has mostly been held by the BJP or the Congress, the Samajwadi Party hopes to make its debut this year.
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are being held in seven phases in February-March starting Thursday. Counting of votes will be held on March 10.
With inputs from News18