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BJP eyes split in Muslim votes to retain Saharanpur

As political pundits say, the road to Delhi lies through Uttar Pradesh. The road to UP, however lies in the northwest district of Saharanpur, bordering Haryana and Uttarakhand.

Call it superstition or rooted in meticulous calculation, but all major political parties in UP focus their campaign on Saharanpur, which has 42 per cent Muslim votes. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the constituency today, Congress leaders are also drawing up a plan for Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka Gandhi.

Foes-turned-friends Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are also scheduled to address a joint rally at Deoband, India’s largest Islamic seminary, that falls under the Saharanpur Lok Sabha constituency, on April 7. Saharanpur goes to polls on April 11, the first phase of the 2019 general elections.

Like in 2014, this time too, the BJP is hoping that a split in minority votes will help its candidate scrape through. Both Congress and BSP have fielded Muslim candidates from this seat.

While Fazlur Rahman is contesting as the SP-BSP alliance candidate, the Congress has fielded Imran Masood, Congress Uttar Pradesh Committee senior vice-president, who during the 2014 campaign, had threatened to chop off Narendra Modi’s hands and was subsequently arrested. BSP’s Rahman owns meat and food processing units in the area and has sufficient clout to tilt the scales.

In 2014, BJP candidate Raghav Lakhanpal defeated Masood by a thin a 5.4 per cent vote margin. Masood’s cousin Shazaan – son of his uncle and five-term MP Rasheed Masood – had then contested on an SP ticket. He came fourth.

Past poll data shows that an SP-BSP alliance may not work in 2019. In 2014, the BSP was second runner-up with 19.67 per cent vote share, and if we add the SP’s 4.42 per cent vote share, they cannot fill the gap of votes clocked by the BJP and Congress candidates.

The silver lining, however, is that while the BSP won this seat in 1999 and 2009, the SP grabbed it in the 2004 election. The BJP has had no history of taking the Saharanpur seat, except in the last elections.

Saharanpur comprises of five assembly seats including Saharanpur Nagar, Saharanpur, Deoband, Rampur and Maniharan. Out of these, the BJP and Congress hold two seats each while the SP holds one.

The BJP once again is relying on its sitting MP Raghav Lakhanpal to retain his seat. And the division in Muslim votes between two strong opposition candidates was possibly the fillip he was waiting for. A top BJP leader, who is also a prominent minority face for the party, instantly declares “Raghav jeet jayega (Raghav will win)”, when he learns that both his opponents are Muslims.

Division within the Muslim community will also be a significant challenge for Congress candidate Imran Masood. Gaddas and Qureshis, who comprise a significant number of the minority community in Saharanpur, are favouring BSP candidate Rahman.

Saharanpur is expected to be a nail-biting contest. Such is the anticipation around the seat, every party has started its Lok Sabha campaign from Saharanpur. While UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath kickstarted the BJP’s poll campaign from the constituency last month, the SP-BSP-RLD combine will aim for a mega show of strength on Sunday. Add to that, the Prime Minister’s mega blitz in Saharanpur today, and it’s going to be fireworks all around.


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