Constituency watch: Kairana, a key seat that saw the UP grand alliance take shape
With Jats, Muslims and Dalits present in large numbers, the constituency will test the coherence of the anti-BJP coalition.
In the sweltering heat of Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh last May, a unique political experiment was attempted.
Arch-rivals Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party decided to come together for the high-profile Lok Sabha by-election after 23 years of acrimony.
The attempt was testing of waters. Could the rival regional parties defeat the BJP by closing ranks?
The constituency has a large concentration of Jats and Muslims, two communities with old links that were torn asunder by the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riot.
To bring together three social groups – Muslims, Jats, and Dalits – opposition parties in UP tried something new. Begum Tabassum Hasan – the wife of the late Muzaffarnagar politician Chaudhary Munawwar Hasan – a Samajwadi Party leader, was given the ticket from the Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party associated with the Jats for decades.
The combination succeeded in pulling together Muslim and Jat votes, just a few years after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riot that had displaced 50,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their villages.
And with the BSP also on board, Dalit votes – particularly of Mayawati’s caste, the Jatavs – also moved to the RLD candidate.
The result: Tabassum Hasan defeated Mriganka Singh of the BJP, daughter of well-known Gujjar leader of the saffron party Hukum Singh.
This success – apart from the successes the SP and BSP tasted in Phulpur and Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath’s bastion, when they came together – paved the way for the Uttar Pradesh grand alliance.
Kairana remains important as a successful experiment in marrying Jat, Muslim and Dalit votes, which aren’t natural allies. Jats are a dominant Hindu caste in western UP. Dalits have been sometimes at the receiving end of Jat ire. More than a decade back, tensions had mounted in the village of Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, a Jat from the influential Baliyan Khap (clan), when he had used a caste slur against the then Chief Minister Mayawati. Police had surrounded his village – I travelled there for two days as a journalist to cover the standoff – and Tikait finally surrendered in court.
Jats and Muslims had old agrarian links, both being active in the BKU for decades. Jats had not shifted to the BJP in appreciable numbers even during the polarisation of the Ram temple movement in the 1990-92 phase.
However, the Muzaffarnagar riot changed it all. It was alleged that a Muslim youth stalked a Jat girl, following which her brothers murdered him. They were also killed in retaliation, leading to a flare-up.
A Jat sarv-khap (all-clan) panchayat met and accused the Samajwadi Party government of “supporting Muslims”. The local leadership of the BJP came out in support of the Jats.
Things took an ugly turn soon after when 50 people fell dead in riots and 50,000 Muslims were displaced. As the BJP continued to support Jats as “Hindus”, the community shifted en masse to the party, marking the debacle of the RLD.
Kairana goes to the polls again with Tabassum Hasan as the Samajwadi Party candidate this time. With the SP, BSP and RLD in the alliance, the attempt yet again is to pool together Muslim, Jat and Dalit support.
This apart, Gujjars are also unhappy with the BJP, as Mriganka Singh has been denied a ticket.
Being the constituency that saw the new political combine of a grand coalition come up in 2018, all eyes will be on Kairana, a small town also known for the Kirana Gharana of Hindustani Classical Music.
The Kairana result – like that of some other key constituencies – will test the strength of the UP grand coalition on the ground.