LUCKNOW: While BSP chief Mayawati’s open appeal to Muslims in Deoband on April 7 stirred the communal cauldron of western UP, the BJP wasted no time in taking it to the next level with CM Yogi Adityanath's ‘Ali-Bajrangbali’ rhetoric in Meerut. As the celebration of democracy kicks off on Thursday, the scorched earth electoral campaign in battleground UP has turned communal.
Though the Election Commission of India (ECI) has taken cognizance of both the statements, seeking reports from the respective district magistrates, political pundits feel that the BSP chief, who is the tallest leader of the mahagathbandhan in UP, has handed a poll plank to the BJP on a platter in an attempt to cut out the Congress from the picture.
In the election campaign so far, the BJP had been keeping its narrative focused on ‘development’ and ‘nationalism’ but the grand alliance’s very first rally in Deoband drove the discourse towards the polarisation of voters.
“It is unpardonable on the part of BSP chief Mayawati and the gathbandhan as a whole. She has not done it for the first time but has been a habitual offender. She had woven her entire campaign around the same Muslim card in the 2017 UP assembly election and faced the consequences,” says Prof AK Mishra, senior political scientist, Lucknow University.
“It doesn’t need any deep investigation by the ECI. Instead of condoning such statements, the poll panel should give prompt decisions in such cases,” adds Prof Mishra.
Possibly to avoid such a scenario tinged with communalism, the alliance had been treading silently for a major part of the campaign for the first phase. The BSP chief kicked up the row by making an open appeal to Muslim voters to support alliance candidate Fazlur Rehman. “Muslims should not get confused by the Congress. It’s only the SP-BSP-RLD alliance which is fighting the BJP. Muslims should only vote for the alliance to defeat the BJP,” she said.
The BJP picked up the statement to accuse the BSP chief of the politics of appeasement. In his recent rallies, PM Modi intensified his attack on the alliance. He even called the BSP a sinking ship and appealed to the ECI to ascertain if her desperate appeal to Muslims was communal or not.
“This is why the alliance had been cautious of an aggressive campaign to avoid any such problem. That was one big reason why both the leaders held their first rally in the region only on April 7, just 48 hours before the campaign would have stopped for phase one. But they failed to avoid it,” says a senior SP leader.
However, a BSP leader was also ready with an explanation, calling it a well thought out strategy of ‘Behenji’. “She might have had the sense of its repercussions before saying something of this sort,” he adds.
However, the demography of western UP also prompts political leaders to resort to such rhetoric. Even during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, western UP, where minorities make up a sizable portion of the electorate, had witnessed polarisation on the issue of the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013.
Again, in the 2017 UP assembly polls, the ticket distribution by the BSP favouring a large number of Muslims -- around 97 of 403 -- led Hindus to nurture a grudge against her. Even the SP-Congress alliance was seen as a tie-up of opportunism. This consolidated the Hindu voters in favour of the BJP.
Mayawati’s appeal might have come due to the high percentage of Muslim voters -- over 20 per cent -- in all eight seats going to vote in the first phase. Even in the second phase, Nagina has more than 41% Muslim voters and Amroha has 35.5%. Similarly, Aligarh and Bulandshahar have around 20% each.