Thanks to Varun, Pilibhit is a house divided

By Sharat Pradhan, IANS,

Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh) : Controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Varun Gandhi appears to have polarised Pilibhit on communal and even caste lines like never before, making the outcome of the May 13 Lok Sabha poll here quite unpredictable.

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Hindus, Muslims, Kurmis and Bengali migrants are openly speaking of voting for or against Varun Gandhi, who was reported to have delivered communal and inflammatory speeches in this constituency and was put in jail for it.

While he has become a Hindutva mascot here, Muslims are now going all out to favour his Congress rival V.M. Singh. This has happened in spite of the presence of a Muslim candidate fielded by the Samajwadi Party.

“There is a reason for Muslims to rally behind the Congress – its nominee V.M. Singh is seen as the most potent force against the BJP,” Haroon Ahmad, a former Samajwadi Party leader who switched sides to the Congress, told IANS.

“Apart from being the only candidate with the desired capability of containing the BJP’s new rabblerouser, V.M. Singh is also known as a messiah of the poor and the needy, particularly farmers. He will give Varun a run for his money.”

However, there is no doubt that the slapping of the National Security Act (NSA) against Varun Gandhi by the state government and the subsequent refusal by a panel of the Allahabad High Court to ratify the decision have given a boost to his image.

Some see his effort to whip up Hindu passions as a strategy by his mother Maneka Gandhi to make people rally behind Varun Gandhi for whom she vacated the Pilibhit seat and moved to the neighbouring Aonla constituency.

According to a demographic study, of the 1.3 million voters in Pilibhit, 350,000 are Muslims and 100,000 are Sikhs. Considering that the constituency has about 850,000 Hindu voters, Varun Gandhi might just get a bulk of that vote.

“We will support Varun Gandhi because he speaks up for Hindus,” remarked Rajesh, a young worker at a petrol station. Ranjit, a college student, felt he deserved Hindu support because he was ready to stand up for the

Things, however, seem to have gone wrong viz-a-viz the backward Kurmi community that is numerically dominant among Hindus, with as many as 250,000 voters.

Alleges local resident Kamlesh Gangwar, “There have been repeated incidents of assault on Kurmis by Varun Gandhi’s henchmen in different parts of Pibilhit; so a large chunk of the community may not like to support him.”

He said, “In the first incident, it was Varun himself who beat up Kurmi shopkeeper Bharat Vir Gangwar in Johra-Kalyanpur town simply because he had put up a Congress flag atop his shop.”

The incident occurred well before the announcement of elections and an FIR was also lodged against Varun Gandhi in the matter.

He said, “At least 60-70 percent Kurmi voters will therefore vote for the Congress because it was V.M. Singh who helped them initiate action against Varun and his men.”

Varun Gandhi may also not get the support of about 37,000 Bengali migrant voters settled in a particular part of Pilibhit due to a sustained BJP campaign calling them “Bangladeshis”.

However, district BJP president Yogendra Singh Gangwar believes the election will be a cakewalk for Varun Gandhi. “That’s simple because the poll is ‘all others versus Varun’.”

He also believes the Muslim candidate put up by the Samajwadi Party – Riaz Ahmad – will divide the community’s votes.

“The fact that the Samajwadi Party has fielded a Muslim will take care of that and I am sure Muslims will get divided between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, making Varun’s sail even smoother,” Yogendra Singh Gangwar pointed out.

(Sharat Pradhan can be contacted at [email protected])