‘Need to see the proof of Balakot strikes’: Voters in Western UP call out Modi’s nationalism plank

Disenchantment with Modi and the BJP among villagers across the entire western Uttar Pradesh over local issues is evident across the board

PM Modi during an election rally in Rajasthan’s Churu district last month, his first address after the IAF raids in Balakot/PTI

Dhairya Maheshwari

"Rashtravaad koi mudda naa hota hai. Woh border par phir se kuch kar sakte hain. Par uske naam par yahaan se ek bhi vote naa girega unko (Nationalism is not a voting issue here. There may be another incident at the border. But not a single person will vote for the BJP, no matter what happens at the border)," says Ramveer Singh Tevatia, a sugarcane farmer in Jattauna village, Aligarh, five days before the constituency goes to vote during the second phase of polling for Lok Sabha on April 18.

A predominantly Jaat village, residents of Jattauna, much like the surrounding villages with more or less similar demographic make-up, voted en masse for the BJP in 2014 general elections. "There was definitely a Modi wave. The MP candidates' didn't matter much. Everyone voted for the BJP because of Modi," explains Bahedev Sharma, a primary school teacher in the village.

Residents of Jattauna village in Aligarh/NH
Residents of Jattauna village in Aligarh/NH

Despite sending BJP MP Satish Gautam to Lok Sabha by a huge margin in 2014, the state of the farming communities leaves much to be desired. "The sugarcane crop is still lying in the field since there is no government dharm kanta (weighing machine). We are into the wheat season but we haven't been able to get rid of our sugarcane yet," complains Balveer Rathi, a local farmer, adding that the BJP governments at both the state and the Centre have failed to heed to the farmers' concerns.

"The MSP for wheat is ₹1,830 per kilogram. They are not increasing the price. The total expenditure into harvesting the wheat crop comes near ₹1,750 per kg. Very little is left for us," says Tevatia, weighing in again.

"We read in the newspaper the other day that something might happen at the border in the next few days before April 20. This is on the expected lines. But nobody is going to get swayed by nationalism this time," says school teacher Sharma.

Even as the BJP and Modi try hard to make the elections a mandate on nationalism, the predominantly Jaat communities of western Uttar Pradesh, many of them voting in the second phase of Lok Sabha elections, have one thing clear in their mind -- the election will be fought on local issues and be about local candidates.

"Jaats voted for the BJP in large number and played a decisive role in BJP sweeping the western Uttar Pradesh region. This time around they will teach them a lesson," says a confident Deepak Chaudhary, a Jaat leader and the candidate from the newly-floated outfit Secular Samajwadi Party from the Aligarh constituency.

In fact, disenchantment among villagers across the entire region over local issues is evident across the board. While the mainstream media and BJP politicians publicly ridicule opposition leaders and citizens questioning the damage inflicted during the Balakot strikes, the villagers in western Uttar Pradesh, many of them having voted for the BJP in 2014, say that the PM must produce proof to convince others.

Balveer Singh, a resident of Chhatikara village in Mathura constituency, laments the disconnect between the television news media and the ground realities. "TV news channels keep saying that Balakot strikes improved the prospects of the BJP. Nobody in our village feels the same way. The farmers have never suffered as badly as they have under this government," he says.

Balveer Singh, a resident of Chhatikara village in Mathura/NH
Balveer Singh, a resident of Chhatikara village in Mathura/NH

"Woh bas Hindu-Muslim ko bhidwake vote lena jaante hain. Ab woh kaam nahi kar raha, toh rashtrawaad aur army ke naam par vote maang rahe hain (They have been seeking votes by inciting Hindu-Muslim riots. Now, when that has stopped working, they are resorting to seeking votes in the name of national security)," says Balveer, who lives in a predominantly Thakur village.

In Fatehpur Sikri, Kamal Kishore, the village head of Nainana, says that the government must produce proof that the IAF jets went inside the Pakistani territory and elimiated 300-400 Pakistani terrorists. "They must show us the proof. Modiji must show the proof himself, like he announced the Balakot strikes to the nation at an election rally in Rajasthan last month," he says.

 Kamal Kishore, the village head of Nainana in Fatehpur Sikri/NH
Kamal Kishore, the village head of Nainana in Fatehpur Sikri/NH

In Agra as well, the national security plank of the Modi government as well as the apparent milking of the Balakot air strikes for political gains seems to have hit a roadblock.

"They can do anything at the border to try convince us to vote for them. But they have done nothing for us in the last five years. Our sitting MP has been replaced, much against the local sentiment. They can't fight the election in Modi's name alone," says Pravendra Vyas, a Bahujan voter.

The BJP, apparently, realises that its nationalism plank is not cutting ice among the rural voters in the political crucial region. In a last ditch effort to sway the voter sentiment, PM Modi is slated to address a huge rally in Aligarh on Sunday, coinciding with Ram Navami.

A total of eight constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, namely Nagina, Amroha, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Hathras, Mathura, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, go to polls during the second phase. All the eight constituencies sent BJP MPs to Lok Sabha during the 2014 elections.

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