Monday, 30th October 2017

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Saharanpur Dalit factor in BJP Kairana loss

Saharanpur district, which erupted in Dalit-Rajput clashes soon after Yogi Adityanath became chief minister in March last year, played a key role in the BJP's defeat in the Kairana parliamentary by-election.

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 2.06.18
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Lucknow: Saharanpur district, which erupted in Dalit-Rajput clashes soon after Yogi Adityanath became chief minister in March last year, played a key role in the BJP's defeat in the Kairana parliamentary by-election.

Apparently, so also did Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan, the jailed chief of a Dalit outfit called the Bhim Army that rose to prominence riding on the Dalit anger against the Saharanpur violence.

Nakur and Gangoh, two of the five Assembly segments in Kairana, fall in Saharanpur, where three people were killed in the fiery summer of 2017 while the homes and fields of over 100 Dalit families were reduced to ashes.

Winner Tabassum Hasan of the Rashtriya Lok Dal led by 28,117 votes in Nakur and 12,270 votes in Gangoh against the BJP's Mriganka Singh, for a combined lead of 40,387 from these two segments. Her victory margin was 41,363.

Tabassum led Mriganka by more than 15,205 votes also in the Thana Bhawan Assembly segment in neighbouring Shamli district.

Local Dalit leaders claimed this too was a fallout of the Saharanpur violence: Thana Bhawan MLA and minister of state for sugarcane Suresh Rana had been instrumental in organising the May 5, 2017, march that was the trigger for the clashes.

On May 5, the Rajputs had organised a procession from village Shabbirpur in Saharanpur on the occasion of warrior king Maharana Pratap's birth anniversary.

Some of the marchers apparently misbehaved with residents while passing through a Dalit colony. The violence that followed killed an upper caste youth and led to the torching of over 50 Dalit homes. Two more lives were lost in follow-up clashes.

A police report said the May 5 violence was partly a consequence of a standoff in April, when local Rajputs had prevented the Dalits from installing a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar in Shabbirpur.

As Saharanpur flared up, Uttar Pradesh witnessed the sudden rise of the Bhim Army. Chandrashekhar, a young lawyer, spearheaded a campaign accusing the Rajput Adityanath of siding with those attacking the Dalits.

Police accused Chandrashekhar of leading a violent agitation on May 9 in Saharanpur city. He was arrested from a hideout on June 8 and charged with murder, inciting violence and spreading hatred on the social media.

Not a day has passed since then in Saharanpur or neighbouring Shamli and Muzaffarnagar when the Dalits have not held a meeting in support of Chandrashekhar or against the BJP.

Kamal Walia, Saharanpur district chief of the Bhim Army, said: "This was the first time that every Dalit voter had turned up to vote. It shows we are rising up against the atrocities committed against us in Uttar Pradesh."

Another Bhim Army leader said that Chandrashekhar was constantly in touch with his supporters from jail through his aides. "Chandrashekhar was extremely active all these days. While the Dalits wanted to organise a state-wide protest against his arrest, he suggested they focus on defeating the BJP in Kairana," he said.

Sanjeev Balyan, Muzaffarnagar MP and former Union minister, conceded: "We (the BJP) lost because of a Dalit polarisation... the Dalit movements harmed us."

The RLD's vote share in Nakur and Gangoh in the 2017 Assembly elections, when many Dalits had supported the BJP, was just 783 and 1,954. This time with the entire Opposition's weight behind it, and that of the Dalits, its tally was 114,341 and 108,411.

The BJP led the RLD by 13,817 votes in the Kairana Assembly segment on Thursday, and by 412 votes in the Shamli Assembly segment.