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|February 11, 1998|
Constituency Profile/ Baghpat
Ajit Singh's foes fear massive booth capturing
Neither national nor local issues but fear of booth capturing haunts candidates and their supporters alike in this high profile constituency of Bharatiya Kisan Kamagar Party supremo Ajit Singh.
Ajit Singh's supporters, who have embarked on an intensive village to village campaign, say allegations of booth capturing are being levelled by parties frustrated over the poor public response.
Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, during his tour to the area a few days ago, declared that the government would not allow any vandalism at polling booths, come what may. Terming booth capturing as a bane to the democratic process, he said no one would be allowed to gag the people's voice, irrespective of his political position and authority.
"If booth capturing was prevented, we will make the task tough for Ajit Singh who has won the seat in the last three elections," say poll managers of Som Pal Shastri, the Bharatiya Janata Party nominee.
Most parties allege that in several villages, no other castes except those belonging to the Ajit Singh camp are allowed to vote.
Chief Election Commissioner Dr M S Gill, during his tour of Meerut district, a part of Baghpat constituency, said adequate arrangements were being made to foil any attempt at booth capturing.
With Som Pal's presence in the fray, Ajit Singh's formidable Jat camp has developed divisions, much to the dismay of the BKKP president. Som Pal was once a confidant of former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh.
After quitting the Rajya Sabha and parting company with Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav, Som Pal joined the BJP in December.
With the two Jat stalwarts crossing swords, candidates from the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party are optimistic that their voters would be able to cast votes ensuring "surprises in the electoral boxes for the till now invincible Ajit Singh".
With electioneering picking up slowly, the administration has requisitioned additional forces to be deployed in sensitive and most sensitive polling booths, mainly located in the Jat dominated belts of the sprawling constituency which encompasses parts of two other districts -- Ghaziabad and Meerut.
At most party offices, a plastic tray full of bidis is laid prominently for the motley crowd of visitors who generally complain of poor living conditions in this constituency ever since the days of Chaudhary Charan Singh, Ajit Singh's much revered father.
Roads in the constituency are in a terrible condition and power supply in towns and villages is highly erratic. Besides, the law and order sitaution is poor.
A visiting UNI correspondent saw even the main roads linking the newly-created Baghpat district in a deplorable state. Most of the villagers interviewed complained about poor electricity supply and frequent cases of road hold-ups and dacoities.
"We have been fooled for years in the name of the VIP constituency which has nothing to offer except the swelling population of unemployed youth," 'an anguished Rajesh Singh fumed near the main crossing of Baghpat town where all parties have put up their posters and banners for the February 16 polls.
The BSP, which has fielded a young and enterprising candidate Thakur Ajay Singh, is basking in the glory of the creation of a new Baghpat district during party vice-president Mayawati's tenure as chief minister five months ago.
Though the BSP candidate faces a formidable challenge in stalwarts of various other parties due to the arithmetic of strong caste configurations, the party has an edge having fulfilled its long standing promise of a new district.
"If behenji had remained CM, radical transformation of the newly-carved out district would have been brought here much to the delight of locals," says BSP poll manager Jag Dev Singh, a Jat. BSP supporters move around singing 'Mayawati ne badal diya bhugol baghpat ka, hum unke liye itihas rachege (Mayawati changed geography, we will make history for her)."
The constituency of 1.3 million voters has 250,000 Jat voters, 150,000 Gujjars, over one lakh Tyagis and Vaishyas, over 250,000 Muslims, 100,000 Thakurs, 30,000 Brahmins and three lakh SCs.
Political observers say Ajit Singh's task will become easier the moment the Muslim voters realise that their split would help the BJP nominee sail through at the hustings.
Currently, the Muslim votes are set for a three-way split to Ssamajwadi Party candidate Dr Mirazuddin, BSP nominee Thakur Ajay Singh and BKKP leader Ajit Singh. Any combine of Muslim and Jat votes will tilt the scales in Ajit Singh's favour despite the criticism of him not nourishing the constituency.
Som Pal, who is spearheading the campaign against Ajit Singh in the main Jat dominated areas of Barnava and Chaprauli, may find it tough to woo Muslims. Som Pal, who hails from the Chaprauli area, wields a fair degree of clout among Jats here.
The constituency is spread over the assembly segments of Baghpat, Barnava, Chaprauli, Khekra and Shivalkash. Except for Khekra where the BJP has its MLA, the remaining four assembly seats had gone to Ajit Singh's BKKP in the last assembly election.
In the last Lok Sabha poll, SP candidate Mukhiya Gujjar with the support of Muslims had finished second after polling about 150, 000 votes against the then Congress candidate Ajit Singh's 348,600 votes. The BJP had finished third.
In the 1997 by-election, Ajit Singh left the Congress and floated his own outfit, the BKKP, and resigned from the Lok Sabha. In the by-elections, he again emerged victorious by a margin of 231,000 votes, outclassing Mukhiya Gujjar, then in the Congress.
Though Mukhiya Gujjar has lent his support to Dr Mirazuddin who is banking heavily on Muslim-Gujjar and Yadav votes, the BSP poll managers are busy convincing Muslims and Gujjars that Ajay Singh, having the support of upper castes and Dalits will tilt the balance if Muslims and Gujjars align to oust the incumbent.
Oblivious of the campaigning, locals are sore over poor civic conditions in the newly-created district.
While for the district magistrate P K Dixit, "All is well here", harried inhabitants complain that poor link roads, deplorable maintenance of canals, and the poor power supply had made their lives miserable.
Though voters narrate their tales of woes, the district administration has taken personal bonds ( muchalka) from 9,000 potential trouble creaters and booked at least a dozen outlaws under the National Security Act to ensure smooth polling.
The constituency has 175 most sensitive and 150 sensitive polling booths, mainly located in Barnava and Chaprauli areas.
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