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|February 10, 1998|
Kanshi Ram faces tough fight
A mammoth elephant-shaped balloon, the election symbol of the Bahujan Samaj Party, floats high in the air at a main crossing in Saharanpur town. The BSP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure victory for its party supremo, Kanshi Ram, in a four-way contest from this constituency.
The primary considerations appear to be caste and community rather than issues. Reticent BSP workers, who are hyperactive at the party office at Dehradun Chowk, admit that dalits in the constituency remain isolated despite Mayawati's efforts to woo all sections of the voters.
Local people in the small towns of Muzzafarabad, Nukur and Deoband say the surprise entry of Kanshi Ram has catapulted this low-profile constituency in western Uttar Pradesh into the national limelight.
The maverick BSP leader has locked horns with sitting Bharatiya Janata Party MP Nakli Singh, Bharatiya Kisan Kamgar Party nominee Rasheed Masood, and Samajwadi Party candidate Mohammed Irshad.
A visiting UNI correspondent found that the BSP poll managers are convinced that they cannot win on the strength of the dalits alone, who along with the Muslims, constitute 54 per cent of the nearly 1,300,000-strong electorate.
They are, therefore, trying hard to woo sections of the non-dalits, especially the the most backward classes and Muslims, claiming that only Kanshi Ram can ensure defeat of the BJP candidate.
But observers in the constituency, where electioneering remains low-keyed, are sceptical about Muslims voting for the BSP leader in view of his frequent flirtations with the BJP.
The Muslims, who constitute about 31 per cent of the electorate, were earlier behind Rasheed Masood, who won four times from Saharanpur. But this time, with every party wooing the Muslims, the Muslim votes are splintered. While Muslims constitute the largest chunk of voters, the dalits rank second, followed by the gujjars, thakurs, brahmins, vaishyas, sainis, and Punjabis. There is also a sprinkling of yadavs and jats.
Masood, who parted company with Mulayam Singh Yadav recently, is in the fray on a BKKP ticket with a coconut tree symbol. He is also being supported by the Congress. Masood's posters, along with colourful pictures of Sonia Gandhi, have sprung up in the entire constituency.
The split in the Muslim votes, who make for the largest block of votes in the constituency, may make the task easy for Nakli Singh whose supporters claim that the 'Abki Bari, Atal Bihari' (This time, Atal Bihari) slogan is catching on.
Though Nakli Singh's campaign had a shaky start as voters blamed him for poor civic amenities and slow development of the district, BJP poll managers later managed to overcome the crisis on the plea that ''local issues should not be raised as the BJP is on the threshold of forming a government in Delhi.''
Deena Nath Sharma, a BJP corporator, admits that the party faced criticism initially but insists that ''visits of top BJP leaders and the infighting in the anti-BJP camps turned the equation in their favour.''
With both Masood and Mohammed Irshad pinning their hopes on Muslim votes, along with another Independent candidate, Dr Masood, besides Kanshi Ram, the advantage to the BJP candidate cannot be ruled out.
Masood's party-hopping has weakened his position. He won the seat in 1977 on a Bharatiya Kranti Dal ticket; he was sent to Parliament in 1989 and 1991 on a Janata Dal ticket.
In the last general election, he was in the fray on a Samajwadi Party ticket and lost by less then a five-per cent margin to the BJP candidate.
The Ajit Singh factor appears to have a minimal impact for Masood in Saharanpur due to the limited jat population. Ajit Singh heads the BKKP.
On the other hand, SP candidate Mohammed Irshad, who was earlier with the BSP, is confident that Muslims will be attracted towards the SP due to Mulayam Singh Yadav. Irshad is an affluent farmer in the area.
Irshad's supporters are enthusiastic after Congress leader Chaudhary Yashpal Singh, a gujjar, lent him support. Singh, though a Congress member, refused to back Masood, the BKKP nominee who is being supported by the Congress under an electoral understanding with Ajit Singh's party.
The BSP, which has the highest stakes with Kanshi Ram not contesting from anyother constituency, is organising meetings of the Saini Samaj, Parajapati Sangarsh Samiti, and the Uthpadan Virodhi Manch to win over some sections of the other backward classes.
While the SP is making a vain bid to prevent a split in the Muslim votes, the party managers are trying to compensate the loss of Muslim voters through a bridge of gujjars and non-yadav OBCs.
The BSP, according to one of the main suppliers of the posters, is far ahead of other candidates in placing orders for big posters. A number of villages have been draped in the blue BSP flags.
According to Amar Singh of the Harauda assembly segment, represented by Mayawati, the BSP has an added advantage over other candidates as ''Bahenji ne is ilake ke liye bahut kuch kiya hai apne CMship ke dauran" (Sister Mayawati has done a lot for this area during her chief ministership). He flaunts a list of developmental work undertaken by Mayawati in the district.
The BSP leaders claim the Muslims -- after realising that a split in their votes may ensure victory for the BJP -- will vote for Kanshi Ram.
The agriculturally rich Saharanpur constituency has five assembly segments -- Muzzafarbad, Sarsavan, Nukur, Harauda and Saharanpur.
Currently, the SP has its MLAs from Muzzafarabad and Saharanpur, the BSP has Mayawati in Harouda and the BJP holds the Sarsavan assembly constituency.
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