UP Bypoll: Stakes High in Khatauli, Hotbed of 2013 Muzaffarnagar Communal Riots
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
Muzaffarnagar: Khatauli, a dusty town that was hotbed of the 2013 Muzaffaragar riots in Western Uttar Pradesh, is witnessing a keen battle in the bypoll, a psychological war ahead of the 2024 general election.
The BJP is trying to retain its seat, around 25 km south of Muzaffarnagar town, while the SP-RLD alliance is working hard to upset the apple cart of the ruling party.
With Congress and BSP keeping away, the December 5 by-election in Khatauli is seeing a direct fight between the BJP and the SP-RLD.
The bypoll has been necessitated due to disqualification of BJP legislator Vikram Singh Saini after his conviction and sentence of a two-year of imprisonment by a district court in a 2013 riots case.
RLD candidate Madan Bhaiya, a four-term MLA, had won his last election almost 15 years ago, followed by three consecutive defeats in assembly polls in 2012, 2017 and 2022 from Loni in Ghaziabad.
With BSP abstaining from the bypoll, the SP-RLD alliance made an understanding with dalit politician Chandra Shekhar Azad, who heads Azad Samaj Party. Azad has extended his support for the alliance candidate and is actively campaigning for him.
In Khatauli, there are 3.16 lakh voters, including nearly 50,000 people from Schedule Castes and 80,000 Muslims voters, according to sources in the parties.
There over 1.5 lakh OBCs, including Sainis with 35,000 votes, besides Prajapatis, Gujjars, Jats, Kashyaps, Gujjars, and Palsthey said.
"Both BJP and the alliance are trying to sway these voters in their favour," Satpal Singh, a college professor in Khatauli and a poll watcher, said.
Azad shared the stage with RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary at a rally a few days ago. He is also campaigning door to door in prominent Dalit area seeking support for thealliance candidate and has promised to be in Khatauli till polling date.
To counter this, BJP has sent a barrage of senior leaders, including Social Welfare Minister Asim Arun.
The cop-turned-politician is seen meeting people of Dalit and backward communities and highlighting the works done by the state government for their upliftment.
Along with development poll plank, the BJP leaders have been raking up the 2013 communal riots in the district in which 62 people were killed and nearly 40,000 displaced.
Addressing an election rally, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath claimed that Saini, who has been convicted in the hate speech case, lost his membership not for any family issue, but for the dignity of Muzaffarnagar.
"It was a politically-motivated and fabricated case," the CM said.
Adityanath also made a blistering attack on the rivals over the alleged poor law and order during SP rule. "They want our daughters and sisters to not venture out on roads… They want Taliban-like rule," he said, terming the Kawal killings, which is believed to have triggered the Muzaffarnagar riots, a black spot on the SP.
"It was because of the SP-RLD alliance that Hindu youths and people of the area had to face atrocities... People can never forget the cruelty meted out to Sachin and Gaurav (Kawal victims) during the SP’s rule,” Adityanath reminding the audience of the riots.
The BJP had swept all the six constituencies in the district in the 2017 assembly polls. However, the results came out in the party's favour only in two constituencies -- Khatauli and Muzaffarnagar.
According to locals, the dent in the BJP's mandate was caused after the farmers' protests against the now-scrapped contentious farm laws. Unemployment and inflation are other reasons that trouble locals.
RLD president Jayant Chaudhary is campaigning vigorously in favour of the party candidate.
The BJP got a major boost when the husband of Independent candidate Sudhes Devi, mother of Gaurav, announced support to the saffron party at a rally of Adityanath.
Though the outcome of the by-election would not have any impact on the health of the state government, which enjoys a comfortable majority in the 403-member UP house.
The result would give a psychological advantage to either of the competing parties in the context of the next parliamentary election.
Since the recent state polls, the SP-RLD alliance has been making all efforts to extend its influence in the western Uttar Pradesh, which comprises around a quarter of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP.
Stakes are also high for the new state BJP president Bhupendra Singh Chaudhary who hails from the area.
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