Som, a two-term MLA from the Sardhana assembly seat in Meerut district, had hit the headlines for his alleged links to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
Muslims, nearly 20 per cent, and Dalits, about 16 per cent, are considered the largest voting groups in the Sardhana constituency. Apart from these two communities, there are Rajputs, Gurjars, Jats, Brahmins and other backward classes in the constituency.
The Dalit vote will be key if Som is to win from the seat again.
He will be contesting against Atul Pradhan, who has been fielded by the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Sanjeev Dhama and Congress’ Syed Rehanuddin.
Pradhan belongs to the Gujjar community and he has contested and lost against Som in the last two elections.
The mood in Alipur village of Sardhana tehsil, about 25 km from Meerut, which has a Dalit majority could hold some answers.
Most villagers believe that a section of the Dalit community voted for Som in the last polls and due to division of votes, BSP chief Mayawati’s political status reduced. They feel this is not good for the future of their community.
BSP candidate Dhama belongs to the Jat community. A Dalit panchayat member in the village said, “The candidate doesn’t matter much, we have to increase BSP’s vote percentage this time.”
The Panchayat member said that most of the population in the constituency belongs to the Jatav community who are considered staunch supporters of Mayawati. Other groups among Dalits like Khatiks, Pasis and Valmikis are less in numbers.
The RLD-backed SP candidate enjoys a lot of support from the Muslim, Jat and Gujjar communities.
The communities, that the BJP is getting full support of, are Rajputs, Brahmins and Vaishyas. Pals, Kashyaps and Sainis are in sizeable numbers among the OBCs and they are keeping their cards close to their chest.
Rehanuddin of the Congress and Zeeshan Alam of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are also in the fray but they are not being considered very strong contenders.
The village adjacent to Alipur is Muslim-majority Kulanjan. There, some men smoking hookah outside a house were engaged in a discussion but did not want to talk about the upcoming elections.
After much probing, one of them gave an example from Mahabharata and Ramayana and said, “There also only 20 per cent won in the end.” He was apparently referring to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s statement of ’80 per cent versus 20 per cent’.
Opposition had alleged that the comment was an attempt at polarisation as the ’80-20′ reference was pointing to the ratio of Hindus to Muslims in Uttar Pradesh.
An official posted in Sardhana tehsil said that following a controversy over the statements of some Muslim leaders, influential Muslim families have imposed an undeclared restriction on interaction with the media.
The leaders of the SP-RLD alliance have been advised to refrain from campaigning in Muslim dominated areas, he said.
Sardhana, which is famous for its 200-year-old Roman Catholic Church, has both people who like Som and others who dislike him.
He was arrested in connection with the Muzaffarnagarriots and since then, he has remained a favourite among some sections for his anti-Muslim statements.
In a press conference in September last year, he had announced that the BJP would rebuild temples wherever mosques had been built by demolishing temples in the state.
Some people in the constituency alleged that after winning elections for the second time, Som stopped meeting people and listening to their problems.
They said there is some sympathy for Pradhan this time due to his previous loss in elections and added that he is also considered a humble and practical man compared to Som.
Apart from his “strong leader” image in the Hindu community, Som is also benefiting from the popularity of the chief minister.
Some people in Sardhana said they were upset with Som’s behaviour but would vote for Adityanath, not the BJP, as he has ended “gunda-gardi” in the state.
A section of Dalit and Backward Classes is also supporting the BJP due to the welfare schemes of the central and state governments. The member of Alipur gram panchayat said that because of this, the Dalit votes have become very important and both Som and Pradhan are trying to woo the community.
However, farmers of the area, irrespective of their community, are refraining from speaking openly in favour of the BJP.
Sardhana’s election mood is an indicator of assembly constituencies n Meerut and Muzaffarnagar districts where the Muslim community is the largest voter segment. According to an estimate, there are 15 districts in western Uttar Pradesh where the number of Muslim voters is more than other communities.
However, young lawyers Shakti Singh and Deepak Tomar, practising in the Meerut District Court, believed that even where the number of Muslim voters is less, the BJP is not benefiting much.
The main reason for this, they believe, is the lack of communal polarisation which would have benefitted the BJP and the anger of farmers against the government, irrespective of their caste.
According to them, the BJP would benefit in urban assembly constituencies like Meerut Cantt, where Muslim voters were less and the BJP’s supporting class Brahmins, Vaishyas and Rajputs were in good numbers.
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