KAIRANA: Welcome to Lisad village.

Here, during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, more than a dozen Muslims were killed. There used to be 12000 plus voters here; but 2,000-2,100 Muslim migrated after the 2013 violence. Today, Lisad is dominated 'purely' by 7-9,000 Jats.

But the Jats are angry. Not at Muslims--but at the RSS ideology and BJP party which forced minorities to migrate. Jats feel that Muslim emigration has affected them. While Jats were farmers, Muslims used to work as raj mistri (mason), badhai (carpenter), painters and also farm labourers.

"Muslims lost lives, while many of our young boys were embroiled in false cases," says a prominent Jat farmer of Lisad. He adds that "we gained nothing. Age-old bhaichaara ended. Both of us are suffering. It is all because of poison injected by the BJP".

Lisad falls under the Kairana Lok Sabha constituency, up for by-polls on May 28. Noorpur, an Assembly constituency in Bijnore district, not too far from Kairana, also goes to polls the same day.

After BJP's humiliating defeat in Gorakhpur and Phoolpur Lok Sabha by elections in March this year, followed by the Karnataka debacle, the party which swept UP by winning 72 MP seats in 2014 Parliamentary elections, and 312 MLAs in 2017 assembly elections, seems to have lost some of its verve.

The Kairana seat fell vacant after the demise of BJP MP Hukum Singh, also an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots. BJP has fielded Mriganka, his daughter, as its candidate. The Samajwadi Party (SP), which won both Gorakhpur and Phoolpur, is supporting Tabassum Hasan, the Rashtriya Lok Dalcandidate.

Tabassum Hasan belongs to the Samajwadi Party. But such is the flavour of pre-poll, anti-BJP alliance in UP, that a SP leader is contesting from the RLD. And SP is backing her. In fact, to send out a message of Jat-Muslim unity in a riot belt, Tabassum, a Muslim, was fielded deliberately by the SP as a RLD candidate!

The mood has changed. Jats voted solidly for BJP in 2014 and 2017. But, in 2018, they are worried more about GANNA than JINNAH, economic issues over attempts at anti-Muslim polarisation.

Kairana constituency has six sugar mills. In the current 2017-18 season (October-September), the six mills have, as on May 18, bought sugarcane worth Rs 1,778.49 crore at the UP government’s State Advised Price (SAP) of Rs 315-325 per quintal. Of this, they were to pay Rs 1,695.25 crore within 14 days of purchase, but have so far disbursed just Rs 888.03 crore. That translates into Rs 807.22 crore in arrears--for a single constituency.

“How does it matter whether or not Aligarh Muslim University has a photo of Pakistan’s founder? Our only concern today is cane payment,” says a Jat farmer, who supplies to the Shamli factory, which alone has cane dues of Rs 190.33 crore. The other five mills, too, have sizable arrears: Unn (Rs 182.84 crore), Thana Bhawan (Rs 182.80 crore), Nanauta (Rs 115.66 crore), Shermau (Rs 80.79 crore) and Sarsawa (Rs 54.79 crore).

Another Jat farmer who grows sugarcane on 34 out of his 45-bigha holding in Laprana village of Shamli’s Unn tehsil, is more direct. “Their (BJP) manifesto stated that we will get full payment for our cane within 14 days of sale. The Minister for Sugarcane Development Suresh Rana is himself the MLA (member of legislative assembly) from Thana Bhawan. Yet, there been no payment after December 31 and this government is even allowing sugar imports from Pakistan,” he alleges.

Recreating RLD’s old Jat-Muslim alliance is what Ajit Singh, too, is attempting. “Today, forget getting payments, you are actually having to beg mills to lift your cane. This is because they divided you on communal lines and your own party has not a single MP or MLA. You have a chance to vote again as farmers and not bother about the religion or caste of your candidate,” he says at a rally in Shamli’s Lisad village.