LUCKNOW: With the advent of pious days – Chaitra Navratri – the SP-BSP-RLD alliance partners are all set to sound their poll bugle officially from Deoband on Sunday, just four days ahead of the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections on April 11.
The Muslim-dominated area is one of the five assembly segments of the Saharanpur parliamentary constituency in western UP, with the four others being Behat, Saharanpur, Saharanpur Dehat and Rampur Maniharan. The western UP seats will go to the polls in the first three phases on April 11, 18 and 23.
While UP CM Yogi Adityanath had also chosen Saharanpur’s most revered shrine of Shakumbhari Devi to launch BJP’s high voltage campaign a fortnight back, the choice of Deoband by the grand alliance will take the voters back to the days of Mandal and Kamandal politics of UP. However, the Congress is yet to cut a space out for itself.
The alliance’s choice to open its campaign from Deoband offers a peek into its strategy in western UP. The BJP had swept all 14 seats in the region in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Deoband, apart from being the seat of Darul Uloom, Asia’s biggest seminary of Islamic education, had also hogged the limelight for the 2017 caste clashes and emergence of the Bhim Army in the last two years.
BSP chief Mayawati, who agreed to stitch an alliance with arch-rival Samajwadi Party, in UP, forgetting all the past bitterness, did not wait for an auspicious day to kickstart her party’s campaign which was launched in Odisha last week.
On the contrary, Akhilesh has been going slow and silently following his strategy of last year’s bypolls not to convene big rallies to avoid polarisation of voters in the region. This polarisation had led to the opposition's decimation in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly elections.
“Muslims along with Dalits and OBCs make a respectable chunk of alliance voters. Deoband could be the best venue to convey the message to Muslims which are dominant here,” says a senior SP leader.
Moreover, Shabbirpur village, which was rocked by the Dalit-Thakur caste conflagration in 2017, is also located in the constituency. Thus an appeal of alliance from Deoband would hit its vote bank straightaway, adds the SP leader.
Political pundits, however, believe that the presence of Mayawati in Saharanpur will leave a long-lasting impact on Dalits of this region. “The rally has been planned at the fag end of the campaign in the first phase so that its impact remains fresh in voters’ minds,” says a senior BSP leader, seeking anonymity.
The Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad's closeness to the Congress’s Saharanpur candidate Imran Masood and Priyanka Gandhi’s recent visit to him in Meerut hospital had unnerved Mayawati. The BSP chief, in fact, has always condemned the Bhim Army chief as a BJP agent. However, despite the long-standing wrangling between Mayawati and Azad, the latter has declared his support to the alliance.
Moreover, it is also a battle of survival for Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary and their success entirely depends on the revival of the winning equation of Muslims and Jats which was badly hit after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. Deoband is strategically situated close to the Jat-dominated belt of Meerut, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat.
In all, the alliance has chalked out a campaign plan comprising 11 joint rallies throughout the state across the seven phases of the elections. The SP and BSP, which announced an alliance in January, will field 37 and 38 seats respectively. The RLD, which is also a part of the alliance, will fight from three seats.