Lucknow, Feb. 7: If the politics of polarisation needed an incubator, Kairana provided the perfect laboratory.
The west Uttar Pradesh Assembly segment in Shamli district reveals how the BJP has been playing on the "fear" factor in the run-up to next month's elections.
The objective: pre-empt a division in Hindu votes.
The pitch was prepared by local party MP Hukum Singh in June last year when he released two lists of 409 Hindu families, alleging that they had fled or were planning to flee Kairana "in fear of criminals of a particular community".
He had even claimed the situation was the same in other districts of west Uttar Pradesh.
So come February 11, when the first leg of the seven-phase elections in the heartland state gets under way, Hukum's daughter Mriganka Singh will take the field in a polarised atmosphere as the party's nominee from Kairana, around 650km south-west of Lucknow.
Amit Shah, the BJP's national chief, has further sharpened the line drawn by his Kairana MP by announcing that a special police cell would be formed and a deputy collector appointed for the region to stop the alleged migration.
The BJP has included the issue in its manifesto for the February-March elections, while Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Sanjeev Balyan, who have been campaigning for the first phase of the elections in 73 west Uttar Pradesh constituencies, have compared the situation in the region with Kashmir.
Balyan is an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots that had claimed over 50 lives and led to the displacement of more than 50,000 families.
"It is a general trend in Uttar Pradesh that the majority community polarises at the eleventh hour in support of the BJP in reaction to the unity of the minority community," Mohammad Ali, a local property dealer, said. "But Hukum didn't leave anything to chance. Despite the fact that the state government and other fact-finding teams discredited his list of migrants, polarisation of the majority community has happened in advance."
Among the more than three lakh voters in the Kairana Assembly segment, 1.15 lakh are Muslims.
"There is a possibility that the Muslim voting percentage would be very high because of the nightmarish experience of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar-Shamli riots. But Hukum has created a similar fear in the minds of Hindus that they would be targeted by Muslim criminals," said Aziz Ansari, a local community leader.
"There is a jailed don, Mukeem Kala, whose gang is active in the area and is allegedly involved in extortion from traders. This fear factor is a boon for Hukum and his daughter."
A BJP leader in Lucknow accepted that Mriganka cannot win in Kairana without a polarisation of majority community votes. "Hukum had not done such politics of polarisation in the past. He has a large number of Hindu and Muslim supporters in the area," the leader, who asked not to be named, said.
Kairana's politics has mostly been centred on the families of Hukum, who has won Assembly elections several times, and the late Akhtar Hasan, who was elected MP from there in 1984 as a Congress candidate. Hukum was then in the Congress and had campaigned for Akhtar.
Akhtar's son, the late Munawwar Hasan, was elected MP as a Samajwadi nominee from Kiarana in 1996 and from Muzaffarnagar in 2004. Before that, he was twice MLA from Kairana. Munawwar's wife Tabassum Hasan won as a BSP candidate in the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
"In Kairana, Hukum has either contested himself or supported the Hasan family's candidate in parliamentary and Assembly elections," a Hukum aide said. "This time, there is a candidate of the Hasan family against his own daughter. Obviously, he had to invent something that could help bail his daughter out."