Listen to this article:
Dadri (Uttar Pradesh): Considered the biggest Gurjar-dominated constituency of Uttar Pradesh, Dadri, near Noida, is witnessing a significant churning in voting patterns. In phase one of the state assembly polls, such a churning could prove vital to the election outcome.
Lined with tall residential societies on the outskirts and even with a dedicated industrial area, the constituency is still, primarily, a rural seat.
Conversations with voters outside three polling booths – two rural and one urban – in the constituency, indicate a significant swing of rural voters, especially from the Gurjar community, towards Samajwadi Party’s candidate, Rajkumar Bhati. Urban voters from the same Gurjar community prefer Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Gurjar community contributes the highest number of voters in the seat – estimated to be over two lakhs – followed by around a lakh Muslims. Dalits, Thakurs, Brahmins, and other smaller communities form the rest of the electorate in this order.
All the major parties, therefore, fielded Gurjar candidates.
In the last few polls, a majority of Gurjars voted for BJP with gusto. But this time around, a sentimental cause has thrown them off the saffron brigade.
Last year, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath inaugurated a statue of 19th century ruler Raja Mihir Bhoj, believed by the Gurjars as one of their own. Gurjars take significant pride in owing their lineage to the monarch, and so, every party invokes the king in their campaigns to woo this electorate.
However, a controversy blew up when the name of the community on the plaque of the statue of Mihir Bhoj – inaugurated by Adityanath – was blackened.
The Gurjars saw it as affront to their community, and the opposition fanned the flames.
The community also thought that Adityanath was attempting to appropriate Mihir Bhoj’s identity and turn him into an icon of the Thakur community, which also claims Mihir Bhoj’s lineage.
The issue created a wedge between the Gurjars and Adityanath, a Thakur leader.
The impact of the issue is seen in voting patterns even now. “Adityanath insulted our community and also Raja Mihir Bhoj. That is why we are voting against his party,” says Ravindra, in Chitehra village of Dadri. He is surrounded by people who nodded in support of him.
In villages around Chitehra, the sentiment against BJP seems to be the same.
“We are voting against BJP. A good number is going towards SP, while the rest from our community are moving towards either the BSP or AAP,” says 60-year-old Rampal.
He adds that he respects the BJP candidate Tejpal Nagar, popularly known as ‘Master ji‘, but he is angry with the chief minister.
His sons quip that although the Mihir Bhoj controversy appears to have become dominant in the community, in reality it blew up because farmers like them are “miserable” under the BJP-led state government.
“Anger was brewing. Stray cattle has become a nuisance. We have been running into losses for years now. We are struggling to recover our costs. On top of this, there are no jobs for us, the standards of education in schools and colleges have really deteriorated. BJP doesn’t bother with these issues. The Mihir Bhoj controversy only provided an immediate trigger,” says Rampal’s son Balbir.
Dadri is one of the few seats where local anti-incumbency – a big factor against BJP MLAs this time around – is almost non-existent. Instead, the anger is directed towards the BJP leadership, which is reflected in criticism of two of the top most figures: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Adityanath.
The seat has, significantly, never been won by Samajwadi Party, seeing only BJP or BSP MLAs. This time, a unique political scenario has made SP a key player for the first time.
However, this does not mean that BJP is not getting any votes from the community. The urban areas of the constituency showed a different trend. Most voters from the community said they wanted an Adityanath government again.
“Because of a small skirmish between Thakurs and Gurjars, there is some anger against BJP. But we feel most votes from the community will still go to the BJP,” says an urban Gurjar voter in Dadri.
“A good law and order system is essential. And that is why we prefer BJP,” he says. This is in marked contrast to the assertion by Gurjars in villages, who say that the law and order situation has neither improved nor deteriorated over the last five years.
BJP activists estimated that only 20% of the community votes will swing towards the opposition. However, elders in villages believe that the opposition will corner around 70%.
SP candidate Rajkumar Bhati, also a Gurjar, may also benefit from Muslim votes. Most Muslims The Wire spoke to preferred SP over any other party.
Among other communities, Jatav voters at the booths unhesitatingly said that they voted for BSP. A booth agent from the party described the Adityanath government as a “majdoor virodhi, bade logon ki sarkar” – “anti-worker government of and for big people.”
All the ‘upper’ caste voters with whom The Wire spoke to, on the other hand, favoured BJP, although most added that the government should create jobs and provide better education.