As western Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls on Thursday, in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections, the Muzaffarnagar seat is turning into a fight between “son of the soil” Sanjeev Balyan and “Delhiwala” Ajit Singh. Balyan of the Bharatiya Janata Party is a Union Minister, while Ajit Singh is the son of the late Chaudhary Charan Singh and the leader of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).

Balyan defeated Kadir Rana of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by a margin of more than four lakh votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that were held soon after the Muzaffarnagar riots. A firebrand Hindutva face, Balyan has massive support in the region. Contesting against the “son of the soil” is Ajit Singh, who in spite of being a Jat is considered an “outsider”, for he has migrated to Muzaffarnagar from Baghpat, his ancestral seat, which he lost to Satyapal Singh of the BJP in 2014.

Vikas Thakur, a voter from Khatauli’s Kehd Kuraish village, told The Sunday Guardian: “Balyan lives amongst us in Muzaffarnagar and not in a sprawling bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi like Ajit Singh does. We all have great respect for the great Chaudhary Charan Singh, but not for Ajit Singh, who works only for his personal gains.”

In fact this is the popular impression among the voters of Khatauli Sardhana and Charthwal. Most of them consider Ajit Singh to be a “Delhiwala”. It was only in the Sisauli village in the Budhana Assembly constituency, that voters expressed their fondness both for Chaudhary Charan Singh and Ajit Singh. Sisauli is the village of the late farmer leader and activist Mahendra Singh Tikait.

Sansarpal Gadaria, another voter from Khurd Kuraish, told The Sunday Guardian: “We have to prepare one month in advance if we wish to meet Ajit Singh, but to meet Balyan we just have to call him on his mobile. Not only is Balyan accessible, but he has also carried out development work like construction of roads, ensured railway connectivity and timely payment of sugarcane produce. So this constituency is going to give him another chance.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also a major factor here. When asked about him, hundreds of voters from the Muzaffarnagar constituency said that Modi has worked hard for the country, took action against Pakistan (airstrike), gave reservation to the upper caste poor and has spoken in favour of Hindus, which is why they will again vote for him.

A crowd of around 200 villagers had gathered in Khurd Kuraish to see Balyan during his election campaign on Thursday. He reached there around 2 pm with his supporters. Speaking to the villagers, Balyan asked: “Is there anyone who has not saved my contact number in his or her mobile?” The villagers replied in one voice: “No one; everyone has your contact number.”

Jayant Chaudhry, with Naresh Tikait, seeks support for his father Ajit Singh during a poll campaign at Sisauli in Muzaffarnagar.

Asked whether he was facing any competition from Ajit Singh, Balyan said: “In a democracy, no one has got any entitlement to victory—it’s the people who decide whom they will elect. We all have great respect for Chaudhry Charan Singh. But Ajit Singh has no connect with the voters of Muzaffarnagar. The voters here consider him as an outsider.”

“I am confident of my victory and you can note it down on paper,” Balyan added.

According to Vikram Singh Saini, the incumbent MLA from Khatauli, which is part of the Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha seat, “People here vote in favour of a person who takes the phone call of even an ordinary resident at night. When the youths of this constituency face problems, no one comes to rescue them except Balyan, but in the time of elections they (Ajit Singh) come to become leaders.”

“We are working as Narendra Modi’s army and the people of Muzaffarnagar will vote for him,” Saini told The Sunday Guardian.

Saini highlighted the development work done by PM Modi and asked the people to vote for Modi only for he has the ability to take on Pakistan, He also spoke about the Balakot airstrikes.

With nearly 17 lakh voters, the Muzaffarnagar constituency has five Assembly segments—Budhana, Charthawal, Muzaffarnagar, Khatauli and Sardhana. All these constituencies were won by the BJP in the 2017 Assembly elections.

The dominant castes in Muzaffarnagar constituency are: Jat (175,000 votes), Muslims (560,000 votes), Dalits (207,000 votes), Brahmins (55,000), Tyagi (45,000 votes), Saini (87,000 votes), Gadariya (48,000), Kashyap (52,000), Thakur (123,000), Baniya (158,000) and Gujar (50,000)

However, despite the euphoria over Narendra Modi among the youths and the middle aged voters in Muzaffarnagar, there are areas where Ajit Singh too has some support. This is particularly true for the Budhana Assembly segment, where Ajit Singh has the support of Tikait’s Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhry, who is contesting against BJP’s Satyapal Singh from Baghpat, which his father left to fight from Muzaffaranagar, organised a road show from Mundbhar Thana to Sisauli on Wednesday. The rally attracted huge support.

In scorching heat, Jayant Chaudhry’s convoy passed through the narrow lanes of Sisauli and reached the house of former BKU leader Mahendra Singh Tikait to meet his son Naresh Tikait and get his support for his father Ajit Singh.

Jayant Chaudhry told The Sunday Guardian: “Our family has an old and very special relationship with Baba Tikait’s family, who was a masiha for the farmers of western UP. I have come here to ask voters to vote for my father. Both my grandfather and my father have done a lot for this region. The farmers of this region are distressed and we want to bring them out of this distress created by the BJP government in five years.”