February 13, 2017 1:56:32 am
Whatever their community profile, the turnout rose consistently in most of the 73 seats that went to polls Saturday. Compared to 2012, the turnout was higher in 15 of 17 Muslim-dominated seats, 11 of 12 reserved seats, and nine of 11 Jat strongholds.
Overall, the turnout was 64.22 per cent, up three points from the 61 per cent of 2012.
Among the 17 seats where the Muslim population is 40 per cent or higher, the SP had won six in 2012, the BJP and the BSP five each, and the Congress one.
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In a region where most parties vie for the Muslim vote, and where the BJP banks on polarisation and a divided Muslim vote, the turnout saw varying increments everywhere except in Meerut and Murad Nagar, where it fell by 2.2 and 1.3 percentage points respectively. The Meerut contest features BJP state president Laxmikant Bajpai against the SP’s Rafiq Ansari.
The highest increase recorded among these Muslim-dominated seats was in Muzaffarnagar, nearly eight points from 56 per cent to 64.
Muzaffarnagar features the BJP’s Kapil Dev Agrawal against the SP’s Gaurav Swaroop Bansal. Of other constituencies in the area affected by the riots of 2013, Budhana’s turnout rose 7.7 points (from 58.30 per cent to 66) while Shamli’s rose 6 points (from 61per cent to 67).
Local politicians interpreting the turnout felt the Muslim vote across the first phase has split between the SP-Congress alliance and the BSP, which has fielded 21 Muslims among its 73 candidates. At least one leader of Muzaffarnagar, however, felt that the higher turnout did not necessarily mean higher voting by Muslims.
“Muslims in western UP always cast their votes in any case,” said the leader, who belongs to the RLD. “If the turnout has increased, it means more Hindu voters have come out to vote than earlier.”
Apart from Muzaffarnagar, Budhana and Shamli, other seats that saw a steep rise included Bulandshahr (5.94 percentage points), Charthawal (5.78), Koil (5.3), Garhmukteshwar (4.34), Sinkandrabad (4.33), Kithore (3.64), Thana Bhawan (3.59) and Kairana (3.36).
Kairana is BJP MP Hukum Singh’s stronghold; before the Lok Sabha seat, he had won the assembly seat in 2012. Last year, he had raised allegations of a supposed exodus of Hindus from Kairana, an issue highlighted by Yogi Adityanath and other leaders during these polls.
SC (reserved) seats
Of the 12 reserved seats among the 73 that voted in 2017, the BSP won five in 2012, with the rest shared by the RLD (3), the Congress (2) and the SP (2); the BJP has no MLA from any of these seats.
Among the 12, the only seat that registered a lower turnout than in 2012 was Hapur, where it fell by a fraction — from 62.32 per cent to 62.
Agra Cantonment’s turnout rose by 12.56 per cent — one of the steepest jumps across the first phase. This seat, held by the BSP, has a mixed population that includes Thakur and Vaishya voters though the SCs are dominant. Another seat that registered a high increase was Jalesar — by over 7 points to 66 per cent. This seat has a significant count of Yadav voters; the SP holds it.
Among the 11 seats where Jats form the single largest population, the RLD won five in 2012, and the SP and the BSP three each. If the higher turnout is the result of higher voting by Jats, both the RLD and the BJP will be hoping for those votes, although the BJP does not represent any of the 11 seats.
Of all the 73 seats that voted Saturday, the steepest jump in turnout came in one of these 11 seats — Chhaprauli, by 12.7 points (52 per cent in 2012, 64.7 in 2017). Chhaprauli is part of Baghpat Lok Sabha constituency, where RLD chief Ajit Singh had polled nearly 2 lakh votes in 2014 amid the BJP’s near-sweep of UP.
The only two Jat-dominated assembly seats that bucked the trend were Chhata (down from 69.7 per cent to 66) and Mant (down from 70.4 per cent to 70). Chhata and Mant are both part of Mathura Lok Sabha constituency, where Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary had posed a strong challenge to the BJP in 2014 by polling well over 2 lakh votes.
A BJP leader in western UP agreed there is a competition for the Jat vote. “Because Muslims have voted in large numbers, so have the Jats, to counter them. There is a contest between the BJP and the RLD to get these Jat votes,” the leader said.
In addition to these 11 seats, the Jat vote is crucial in at least nine constituencies where they form the second largest population. These include Muslim-dominated Shamli and Budhana, as well as Hapur (reserved). The turnout increased in eight of these nine seats, the exception being Hapur.
The BJP’s 11
The 73 seats include 11 that the BJP won in 2012, which in turn include five of the 17 Muslim-dominated ones. The turnout increased in eight of these and decreased in Sardhana, Meerut and Firozabad, all between 1 and 2.5 percentage points.
Sardhana, which a high count of both Thakur and Muslim voters, is where Sangeet Singh Som is the sitting MLA, recontesting; he was also named in a case relating to the Muzaffaranagar riots. The BSP has fielded Hafiz Imran Yaqoob while the SP candidate is Atul Pradhan.
Among the BJP-held seats where the turnout rose are Kairana and Thana Bhawan. The others include Meerut South, Sikandaranad and Noida, from where Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj is contesting.
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