Rohilkhand, with huge Muslim population, may give decisive lift to Gathbandhan
In 2014 Lok Sabha, and 2017 Assembly polls, huge split in Muslim votes-- now blamed on BSP—had resulted in the victory of BJP on most of the seats
Rohilkhand, that is casting its vote today in the second phase, will set the tone of the election for the rest of the regions. As all indications pointing losses for ruling BJP in the Upper Doab-- a region between the rivers Ganga and Yamuna-- all eyes are on the phase two.
The 55 seats of the second phase are where most of the Muslim population in the state is concentrated. Around 30 of them have one lakh or more Muslim votes. Naturally, these seats have been the stronghold of secular parties.
For last few elections, this region has been a make-or-break place for Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and BJP. The party that conquers this region usually forms the government in the state.
There is a historical perspective behind the region is so predominantly Muslim. The term Rohilkhand was given to the region during the 17th century when various Pashtun tribes from Afghanistan started settling in the region previously dominated by the Kathers.
Rampur is the erstwhile princely state ruled by the Shia Rohilla Pathans.
In post-independence era, this region has continued to affect the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, one of the first leaders of Ram Mandir movement, Dau Dayal Khanna was from Moradabad. Mayawati won her first election from Bijnor, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ram Gopal Yadav and even DP Yadav represented Sambhal in Lok Sabha.
Amroha was once represented by Acharya JB Kripalani in the Lok Sabha. Later, Congress’ Rashid Alvi and cricketer Chetan Chauhan won from this seat. Moradabad witnessed the victory of cricketer Mohammad Azharuddinn.
Most of the big faces of Muslim politics, including Begum Noorbano (Rampur), Azam Khan (Rampur), Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (originally from Bareilly but represented Rampur in Lok Sabha), Rashid Alvi (from Bijnor but won Lok Sabha polls from Amroha), Kunwar Danish Ali (representing Amroha Lok Sabha), Sahfiqur Rahman Barq (Sambhal), Saleem Iqbal Sherwani (Badayun) are from this region.
For Samajwadi Party and Congress, Rohilkhand is the best hope of revival this time too. One of the reasons is, despite being in dominance, Muslims in the region have preferred secular faces. Even they have voted for the likes of Pratap Singh Saini, a Ram Mandir activist who later switched to Samajwadi Party.
In 2014 Lok Sabha, and 2017 Assembly polls, huge split in Muslim votes-- now blamed on BSP-- led to the victory of BJP on most of the seats. In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Samajwadi Party BSP alliance won six out of nine Lok Sabha seats in the region.
This time, Samajwadi Party is hoping for the consolidation of Muslim, Jat and Yadav votes in its favour. If Yadav voters in Badaun, Bareilly and Sambhal, and Jats in Bijnor, Saharanpur, Amroha and Moradabad decide to favour Samajwadi Party-RLD alliance, it is poised to sweep the region with huge majority.
The Jat voters are a balancing factor in the assembly segments like Kanth, Naugawan Sadat, Dhanaura, Chandpur, Bijnor, Najibabad, Badhapur, Nakur, and Behat.
Even with no plus votes, only Muslim consolidation in these 55 seats can garner positive results in around 23 seats, including Badaun, Shekhupur, Bareilly, Meerganj, Rampur, Chamrawwa, Swar, Sambhal, Asmoli, Moradabad Urban, Moradabad Rural, Kundarki, Bilari, Kanth, Naugawan, Amroha, Dhanaura, Chandpur, Najibabad, Nahtaur, Nagina, Badhapur, Saharanpur City, Nakur, Gangoh, Deoband and Saharnpur Rural.
For secularists, only tension is the split of Muslim vote and the reverse polarisation in predominantly Muslim areas. As the attempts to communalise the polls by BJP have failed, the SP-RLD alliance can hope for good results.