Merit does not count when it comes to voting

Merit does not count when it comes to voting

By Siddharth Tiwari & Anshika Ravi | NEW DELHI | 11 February, 2017
62-year-old Kallu Singh animatedly expresses his support to BSP in Hartala village of Moradabad.Photo: Abhishek Shukla
Influence of casteism is clearly visible in the sugarcane arc of India’s most populous state.

Moradabad district, which goes to the polls on 15 February in the second phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, is a Muslim dominated area, which turns into a laboratory for social polarisation and severance of votes during elections. While it may be argued that vote bank politics may not always be as immutable as it appears, influence of casteism is clearly visible in this sugarcane arc of India’s most populous state. The Sunday Guardian visited this district to take the pulse of voters.

“We will vote only for the Samajwadi Party,” clamoured a group of young Muslim men of the Hartala village in Moradabad Rural.

Similarly, BSP finds an undeterred support from Jatavs as the community associates itself with the party more than any other political outfit.

“Our votes won’t be counted if we vote for a party other than BSP. Therefore, whether or not Mayawati wins we still stand in her support in every election,” said 63-year-old Kallu Singh of Hartala village.

People across different communities in Moradabad Rural, Moradabad Urban and Kanth—three out of the district’s six constituencies—vociferously expressed that all candidates forget their promises post elections. Hence, they choose to go for the party that talks about their interest. Also, accessibility to government schemes becomes easier for the community when “their” party is at the helm.

“Mayawati always prioritises us and even gave us houses during her previous tenure. Under Akhilesh Yadav, only Muslims and Yadavs get benefits and we are forgotten. We have tried voting for other parties and realised that it was a mistake,” noted Raju, a final year student in IFTM.

Talking about merits and good governance, Muslims, upper caste Hindus and Jats unanimously appreciated the enforcement of law and order under the Mayawati government. Interestingly, this mass appreciation towards BSP doesn’t transcend into their voting preferences.

“No doubt that law and order were perfectly in place under Mayawati. But we want someone from our community to represent us because only then our core issues like reservation will be addressed,” said Mitrapal Singh, ex-pradhan of Kafiyabad village.

Muslims in this region overwhelmingly voted for the Samajwadi Party in the 2012 Assembly elections. However, this time around the prevalent sentiment within the community is “pehle apna bhai, phir jo BJP ko harai (first SP and then someone who can defeat BJP)”. As a result, a sizeable chunk of the community is even considering giving elephant (BSP’s electoral symbol) a free stroll, as they fear that marred with family feud the SP may not be able to defeat BJP. 

“Do we have any option other than the SP? BJP leaders openly keep bringing the Ram Mandir issue in their speeches or say that we (Muslims) should leave the country. This has created a fear amongst us and that is why we stick to the SP. Also, this time many of us might even consider supporting Mayawati if we don’t see the SP in a good position to defeat the BJP,” said Mashqoor of Asaltpura.

Stepping into the Jatav Basti in Hartala village, barely a few metres away from where the Muslims live, is like entering into a different world altogether. While there is a decent concrete road in the Muslim cluster of the village, the Jatav area has narrow lanes studded with sharp pebbles. And once the Jatavs start talking on the apathy and neglect by the SP government, they cannot stop.

“Not a single benefit of the SP schemes has reached our Jatav community. None of our kids have got the laptop, despite scoring invariably better than the Muslims. They demand Rs 1,500 for cycles from us. Even to get a labour card made, they ask us to shell out Rs 1,l000 first. Nobody from the SP has ever come to this side of the village. Why do they make promises if they cannot fulfil them? No matter who wins or loses, our loyalties are with Mayawati,” said Rekha from the Jatav community.

In Mehlakpur village of Kanth Assembly constituency, Muslims say that the BJP workers head directly to the Hindus, without stopping by any Muslim households to even ask for, let alone address their concerns. “The divide is created by them and we are reciprocating the divide by not voting for them,” said Shameer Ahmed of Mehlakpur village.

A similar trend prevails in Kaiyabad village, where the Jat community claimed that Babloo Saini, BSP candidate from Moradabad Rural, only concentrated on mobilising the Jatav community. They also said SP’s “turncoat” Kamraan Ul Haq didn’t visit them during the 2012 elections, as Jats are not SP’s vote bank. However, now that Haq has joined RLD, he paid a visit to the community.

“They all practise caste politics. They know their vote banks and do not care to waste time on different communities,” said Mitrapal Singh.

Singh further pointed out that this was not the case when Congress had the stronghold not only in UP but throughout the country.

“Congress never divided the village in terms of caste. But due to the series of scams and the weak leadership, the party lost its glitter. As a result, these caste-driven parties sprung up,” Singh added.

However, according to the villagers, BSP is trying to break this trend and is attracting the Muslim community to form a formidable Jatav-Muslim combination.

“We have the strong backing of the Jatav brothers and we are also confident to attract significant Muslim votes,” said Babloo Saini, BSP candidate from Moradabad Rural.

Mayawati has fielded as many as 99 Muslim candidates in this election.

While the dynamics of caste have been more or less rigid, voters and experts are of the view that the arithmetic may vary unexpectedly on the day of polling.

According to Mohd Sajjad, Associate Professor, History, Aligarh Muslim University, the scepticism echoed is deliberate, and the voter of 2017 UP Assembly elections is clever and misleading.

“One thing people do not realise is how the voter is fooling the public. He will say he is going to vote for one party, and will end up voting for the other. Forget the candidate, this time even the voter cannot be trusted,” he said.

Despite people’s essential inclination towards their respective castes and communities many of them seemed unsure of the party they would go with on polling day. A lot of people this newspaper talked to about their natural party preferences, said they were “not sure” as to who they would vote for and would take a call on the final day.

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