It seems that in the 2019 general elections, people want Narendra Modi, but not necessarily the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate.
Aditi Phadnis reports
Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Kairana and Ghaziabad go to polls on April 11. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s performance in both the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 2017 assembly elections in this region was record-beating. Can the party repeat it in 2019?
Here, arithmetic answers some of the questions. Satypal Singh -- minister of state for human resource development in the Narendra Modi government, former Mumbai police commissioner and Jat strongman -- has every resource at his command. In 2014, he had trounced the Samajwadi Party’s Ghulam Mohammad, while Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh was relegated to the third position in his ‘karma bhoomi’. This time, a youthful 40-year-old Jayant Chaudhary, Ajit Singh’s son, is trying out his fortune in Baghpat. And it is going to be tough for the BJP to retain the seat.
The reason is caste.
In 2014, Satyapal Singh had polled around 4,00,000 votes and won by a margin of around 2,30,000 votes. But add up the votes polled by Ajit Singh (1,99,000) and Ghulam Mohammad (213,000) and the number is almost equal to the total votes that Satyapal Singh garnered.
Even if one assumes that the followers of Ajit Singh and Ghulam Mohammad (who is not contesting this time) are not homogeneous and some could also support the BJP, then there's the question of Gujjar votes.
In 2014, Baghpat took note of Prashant Choudhary, a Gujjar leader who contested as the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate. Gujjars hold sway over parliamentary seats of Gautam Buddh Nagar, Meerut, Kairana, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Bulandshaher and also Baghpat. They are influential, although not that numerous in Baghpat (about 45,000 votes).
Choudhary had polled 1,42,000 votes and was believed to have received not only the majority of the Gujjar votes but also support from Dalits, who comprise 11 per cent of the population.
There are two sections of Dalits in the constituency: Valmikis (about 20 per cent of the total Dalit population and largely supporters of the BJP) and Jatavs (80 per cent who only vote for Mayawati, the BSP chief). As part of the seat adjustment, there is no BSP candidate this year. Which way will Gujjars and Jatav Dalits vote? Very hard to say.
This Lok Sabha constituency witnessed a massive upset when after the death of Hukum Singh, the BJP fielded his daughter Mriganka in 2018 in a futile bid. She has been denied the ticket this time and made no secret that she is hurting.
Mriganka lost the by-election to the RLD’s Tabassum Hasan, then joint opposition candidate. But wait! Did we say opposition? The Congress has fielded its own nominee: Harinder Malik, who is respected but by no means the unanimous choice of the voters, especially of Muslim voters, who number around 5,00,000 of the total voter population of 1.6 million.
Hasan got 51 per cent of the vote in the last election in 2018.
But the Congress’s Malik is expected to be a spoiler this time. Malik is not a political non-entity: He speaks the local idiom and has a standing among the populace. But privately, he has told his supporters that he is a lamb to slaughter -- he cannot win without the support from Muslims. “Even BJP supporters will vote for her,” predicted Iqbal who is a small trader.
On the other hand, the BJP has replaced Mriganka with Pradeep Chaudhary. The average BJP worker is in a deep sulk. But either way, the vote will be for Modi or against Modi. The chances of the BJP losing this seat are extremely high.
It is the heart of western UP. Here, ‘Choudharysaab’ (as Ajit Singh is known in these parts) is pitted against Sanjeev Balyan of the BJP.
Balyan is uncertain about his chances of winning. A highly qualified doctor and scientist, Balyan won by a margin of 4,00,000 votes in 2014. But the heart of the problem in Muzaffarnagar is sugarcane and all the attendant problems.
Here the calculations have gone awry because of the presence of the charismatic Congress candidate, Dolly Sharma, an MBA. Although there is hardly any chance of defeat for the systematic booth-level coordination by General V K Singh (retired), who has been repeated as the BJP candidate (and who won by the highest margin of votes after Narendra Modi in 2014), the performance seems hard to replicate.
He will probably retain his seat but the margin will definitely come down. In 2014, except Saharanpur, the BJP candidates in all seven constituencies in this region defeated their rivals by more than 2,00,000 votes. In Saharanpur, the BJP candidate won by 65,000 votes. This time? Jat leader and agricultural scientist Sompal Singh, who was also a Union minister in the V P Singh government, is pessimistic about the chances of the BJP.
The bottom line is: People want Modi but not necessarily the BJP candidate. There lies the rub.