As Punjab and Goa go to polls, the focus of political stalwarts has shifted to western UP. BJP chief Amit Shah, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati are all in western UP, campaigning heavily for upcoming assembly elections.
Leading the charge, however, is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is addressing an election rally in Uttar Pradesh's Meerut on Saturday. With sizeable Muslim voters, western UP will vote in the first phase of UP elections 2017 on February 11.
In the upcoming polls, the competition is set between SP-Congress alliance, BJP and BSP. Western UP, rocked by Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, may set the tone for the other rounds of voting. The region has 73 constituencies in all.
While SP, Congress and BSP share influence over minority vote banks in the region, BJP has not given even a single ticket to Muslim candidates for the assembly elections. Muzaffarnagar riots, Kairana migrations and the Jat anger may further polarise the vote bank politics.
This may act as the double-edged sword for the BJP, which is banking heavily on its traditional Hindu voters to claw back to power after more than a decade and a half.
However, this has not dented the confidence of the BJP leaders.
In a highly controversial statement, BJP MP Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma in December claimed that Muslims do not vote for BJP because it is a patriotic party. "We don’t care about any votebank. Muslims have never voted for us and they never will. It is a very simple matter.. why is every terrorist in the country a Muslim and why do Muslims not vote for BJP… Because the BJP is a patriotic party, that’s why Muslims don’t vote for us. We don’t care about any particular community. We will build the Ram Mandir."
Western UP will be a cakewalk for the BJP, Keshav Prasad Maurya told a newspaper recently, "Migration of Hindus out of fear and the protection given to Muslim goondas has made people lose faith in SP. We will find out how many more Kairanas are there in UP. Every Hindu family that had to flee will be brought back and every person who was party to this crime will be behind bars."
On the Jaat anger against the BJP, he added. “We don't do caste politics. It will be a one side win for the BJP in western UP. Deoband, Chandausi, Gautam Budh Nagar..We will win with huge margins here. We will get over 300 seats overall."
Despite the claims, PM Modi is likely to face an uphill task ahead of him on Saturday as he attempts to woo the voters who are traditionally not in BJP camp. But if he manages to tilt the balance in BJP's favour in western UP, the party may just make a comeback in the political arena of Uttar Pradesh.