Thursday, Aug 11, 2022

‘Kairana Doesn’t Just Stand For Riots And Hindu-Muslim Rivalry, We Can Stand For Something Else As Well'

Jitender Gupta/Outlook Photo

The socio-economic cost of strained Hindu-Muslim relations in western UP is an expected deciding factor in the Kairana bypoll. In an audacious move, the opposition alliance has fielded a Muslim candidate, Tabassum Hasan, on a Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) ticket, against BJP’s Mriganka Singh.  ‘Kairana doesn’t just stand for riots and Hindu-Muslim rivalry. We can stand for something else as well,’ says RLD leader and former MP Jayant Chaudhary, in an interview with Pragya Singh:

Why has the opposition alliance of RLD, SP, BSP, Congress and Nishad Party fielded a Muslim candidate for the forthcoming Kairana bypoll?

There was temporary misalignment of Hindu-Muslim ties in this region after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. Emotions were heightened in that time, right before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It takes time for such emotions to dissipate. But we can’t keep talking about riots in every subsequent election. We cannot view Kairana solely from the prism of riots. We are campaigning for bhaichara—brotherhood—and who doesn’t want this? Especially people who have seen violence and therefore carry trauma, don’t want to keep reliving it. The BJP is forcing people to relive trauma, we are not.

It is said, had the alliance fielded a non-Muslim candidate, its chances of winning would have been higher. Perhaps for that reason you were seen as a potential contestant, as it is also your party’s symbol...

Our candidate was a collective decision of the two of us, Akhilesh Yadav and I, and we also discussed it with the partners. The fact is, if we had a Hindu candidate, and even if I were contesting, BJP would have said that this would ‘divide’ Hindus. They would have said that we are an alliance for Muslims alone. Fact is there’s no end to such talk. Now that we have a Muslim candidate they are saying ‘Hindu ko nahi de saktey they’—couldn’t we have fielded a Hindu. Would they not have contested this election had I been the candidate?

But Muslims, it can be argued, would have voted for any combination candidate.

We will win the election. All this talk of exclusion (of Muslims from representation in political parties)—if we also support that brand of politics, reinforce that idea in the mainstream and make it the new normal, then we’d have to ask what we stand for. Muslims have been with us in the past too. It was important for us to cement our social alliance but we also have to take risks at some point. It might have been a big leap of faith but I believe time is right to show the world that Kairana doesn’t just stand for riots and palayan (migration) and Hindu-Muslim rivalry. We can stand for something else as well.

Why do you think this election is grabbing national attention?

This election is a stepladder towards the national stage. Just as Karnataka has turned out to be a major event with leaders going there, just as there are conversations about that event in Delhi, in Mumbai, in households everywhere, this bypoll will also have greater resonance beyond UP politics. This election will test the hypothesis that you can keep harping on the same thing and winning elections. In the last UP election, there might have been some anti-incumbency (the Akhilesh Yadav-led government faced) but we also had the Prime Minister talking about shamshan ghats and Diwali, which are very elaborate and direct attempt at polarizing.

How can you stitch together this alliance with a single theme?

Farm distress is the core agenda for this region. Social cohesion already existed here apart from a temporary misalignment. Our alliance is also very cohesive. Workers of all parties have been activated. We keep talking to all partners. Recently, I spoke at a Sant Ravidass mandir about why this election is unique. In every village I have seen Dalit, Muslim support. There’s a lot of pressure on us from the bottom. Even if we political parties fight over minutiae, our workers and people who want to vote for us are cementing the alliance. 

On Sunday, the Prime Minister will address a large gathering in Baghpat, bordering Kairana. You refer to this in your meetings here. Why?

There is a lot of propaganda and hype built around these two figures in Indian politics (PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah). The PM’s coming to Baghpat on the eve of polling is a deliberate attempt at trying to influence elections. If he had wanted to come here I would have welcomed him but to campaign after May 26 is immoral. He went to Nepal before Karnataka elections and Russia a few days ago. These are now meetings without an agenda, in which nothing is achieved. They are only trying to create a larger-than-life figure who is great friends with Putin, Trump and other world leaders. Indirectly, it tells the public that they, too, are on that world stage.