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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Why Saharanpur is an interesting poll battleground

Far removed from the usual dust and din for votes during the elections, something unusual is happening in Deoband–home to one of Islam’s most venerated seminaries–the Darul Uloom.

In the Muslims-only area, the BJP has always been a virtual political untouchable. Here we found some new pukka homes with PM Awaas Yojana and beneficiary’s name painted in bold.

A resident of kuccha home, Ameena along with her sister watching their under-construction houses with a kitchen and toilet, is among some neo-convert Modi fans among the Muslims.

Ameena (70) has been living in one-room shanty with four brick walls and a tin sheet over it since she got married 53 years ago. She aspired for a home with firm walls and roof which doesn’t drip when it rains.

In the next two months, she may get what she wanted – courtesy the PM Awas Yojana. She and her sister first hesitate to open up to complete strangers but then candidly admit, “We have got this home due to the PM’s scheme.”

When we asked her that it’s a perception among the Muslims that the Narendra Modi government has pushed for growth that has ignored the minority community, Ameena shrugged and said, “I don’t know about that but Modi has given it to us and many others.”

As we walked further inside the colony, we found many Muslims have got Ayushman Bharat cards. At Salim’s home, his wife and daughter were busy sewing. He asked them to show us their new LPG cylinder and stove. His wife beamed and pulled out the scarlet Indian Oil LPG cylinder and without any question said, ‘Ye humare PM ne diya hai.” (our pm has given this).

As Salim walked us, we asked him, will you buy a refill? He said everybody in the neighbourhood is buying refills. Local dealer says nearly 3,000 odd Muslim families in Deoband have a brand new LPG cylinder and stove in the kitchen – courtesy the Ujjwala scheme.

Some young men rushed in shouting why Muslims can’t trust PM Modi and the BJP.

Taufeeq, pursuing an MBA degree, was the most vocal. He said, “Kya kiya hai Modi ne. Har crime mein kay kisi Mussalman ko insaaf mila.” None of the women we talked to said that they would vote for the BJP.

But the cause for this strong reaction from the young men lies in the divisive politics over votes in Saharanpur and adjoining seats.

On Friday, addressing frenzied supporters at the Saharanpur rally, Narendra Modi said, “Saharanpur was being used as a laboratory to carry out an experiment. Few years back during mahamilavati (adulterated) govt, there was an experiment in Muzaffarnagar. What happened to daughters and mothers at that time.”

Unlike many other districts in UP, the difference between the Hindu population (56.7 per cent) and Muslims (41.9 per cent) isn’t huge.

What makes the Muslim vote critical-is that polarised it helps some and divided it helps others. The strength of Muslim votes can be gauged by the fact that 9 of the 16 towns in Saharanpur have Muslim majority means more than 50 per cent. Four towns in the district have over 70 per cent Muslim population, Kailashpur has as high as 79.9 per cent Muslims.

Congress’ Imran Masood’s, who had once threatened to chop off Narendra Modi’s hands, challenger for Muslim votes is SP-BSP’s meat trader-turned-politician Fazlur Rehman.

While the BJP has fielded last time winner Raghav Lakhanpal. A triangular contest will divide the Muslim vote and help the BJP. While the BJP is praying for a 2014 like polarisation of majority voters, it is not confident about the Scheduled Caste vote, which is loyal to Mayawati.

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