NEW DELHI: “Yadi maidan maar liya to Kairana, Deoband, Moradabad mein curfew lag jayega mitron…. ki Suresh Rana phir jeet ke aa gaya… isliye keh raha ki March 11 ka din hoga… Bharat Mata ki Jai ka naara lagate hue Shamli se Thana Bhawan tak juloos niklega (If Suresh Rana wins the polls again, curfew will be imposed in Kairana, Deoband and Moradabad. March 11 will be the date and a procession will move from Shamli to Thana Bhawan with slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai).”

There has been no word from the Election Commission on this speech by BJP candidate from Thana Bhawan Suresh Rana where the reference was to the party’s propaganda of large scale exodus of ‘Hindus’ from Kairana, Deoband and Moradabad because of threats and intimidation. Just a couple of days ago BJP President Amit Shah while releasing the party manifesto said that a white paper on this exodus will be published and released very soon.

This is a clear indication as reported in The Citizen, that the BJP focus for west UP has shifted from demonetisation to communal polarisation that had worked for the party in the 2017 elections after the Muzaffarnagar violence. Since then western UP has remained in its sights, as the virtual laboratory for its campaigns on cow slaughter, and more recently communal ‘exodus.’

Suresh Rana, along with Sangeet Som, were two prominent members of the BJP from west UP indicted for the Muzaffarnagar violence of 2013 that divided the Jats and Muslims of the region at the time. Rana was arrested under the National Security Act and sent to jail as a prime accused. Despite this he was named as one of the 15 vice presidents of the state BJP after the violence. He, along with Som, was later given Z category security by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Som was recently pulled up by the Election Commission for playing communal CDs during his campaign. He is also contesting the elections. In fact by the time the Election Commission moved in, the CD in question had been heard by large sections of the population with several villagers in Muzaffarnagar mentioning this to The Citizen reporters.

So far the EC has not reacted to Rana’s speech that he insisted had nothing controversial about it. He told reporters who asked him that he had merely said that if he was elected and the BJP brought to power in UP then the “hooligans” who had forced the exodus of others would be the ones to leave from the said districts. Kairana had come into focus a few months ago when local BJP MP Hukum Singh had claimed an exodus of the majority community from the district because of the minorities. Significantly the state government had strongly repudiated this claim as had independent fact finding teams. The MP had later modified his remarks. However, the BJP continued to try and make political capital of this, with the latest being the promise for a ‘white paper’.

The said districts of west UP goes to the polls on February 11. The anger against demonetisation has moved this out of the local campaign with the BJP candidates moving back to the beef campaign that had been virulent in these parts over the last two years, starting with the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq at his residence in Dadri. Since then Som and others have visited the village and adjoining areas, insisting that his surviving and terrified family pay the price for eating what they continue to allege was beef.

Meanwhile Ajit Singh has announced that his Rashtriya Lok Dal will be contesting 150 seats---most of these from West UP that he considers his belt---on its own. Initial moves for the party to join the Samajwadi party and Congress in alliance did not work out, and the RLD is hopeful that it will regain its lost base in west UP at least. The party’s campaign is just about beginning with the candidates list being finalised at the nth hour.

(Cover Photograph: From left, BJP legislators Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana)