It appears the ruling BJP and the joint opposition are playing tactical games to corner each other in the by-election to Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur assembly seats of Uttar Pradesh.
The by-polls are being seen as important for the BJP and the opposition combine alike ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The by-elections are slated for May 28 and campaigning will come to a close on Saturday.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav will not campaign for Tabassum Hasan, the joint opposition candidate fielded in Kairana on the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) ticket. Top leaders of other opposition parties, including the Congress, will also not seek votes for her.
“Yes, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav will not campaign in the by-elections to Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur assembly seats. People know his style of work and he has appealed to people to vote for the opposition candidates,” said Samajwadi Party spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary.
Questions are, however, being raised over unity in the opposition ranks as RLD chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary are the only ones leading the joint opposition campaign. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has stuck to her policy of not campaigning in by-polls.
So, what keeps Akhilesh Yadav away from campaigning? “It’s yet another strategic move, the first one being the decision to field a SP leader on an RLD ticket in Kairana. The BJP wants focus on the Muzaffarnagar riots to get votes. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who has been leading the BJP’s campaign, has targeted the Tabassum Hasan for her roots in the Samajawadi Party that he says was responsible for the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Yadav’s visit may have brought the focus on the Muzaffarnagar riots. The RLD candidate has been an SP leader and so there is no question of any differences,” said an SP leader on condition of anonymity, adding, “The SP also decided not to send its firebrand leaders like Azam Khan to campaign in the region.”
Political observers feel the leaders of all the political parties should have campaigned for the opposition candidate to show unity. “I feel senior leaders of all the parties, including SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) president Raj Babbar, should have campaigned there to give a message of unity to the people. Although second rung leaders may be campaigning, absence of senior leaders becomes significant as they adhere to different ideologies,” says SK Dwivedi, former head of department of political science, Lucknow University.
In another tactical move, SP MLA Nahid Hasan and senior Congress leader Imran Masood, two arch rivals, have joined hands though other senior party leaders have stayed away. Babbar, however, points out that his party decided to support the RLD candidate for the cause of opposition unity and so Masood has been campaigning actively for the RLD candidate.
“We have a considerable base in the area. We are ready to campaign if a public meeting for leaders of all the parties is organised there,” said Babbar.
Chastened by the defeat in by-election to Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats, the BJP has deployed many senior leaders, including half-a-dozen ministers, to camp and reach out to people in Kairana and Noorpur.
In what is being considered a master stroke, the BJP is also banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rally in nearby Baghpat on the occasion of inauguration of Eastern Peripheral Expressway on May 27, the day before the by-poll.
The RLD has urged the Election Commission to restrain the PM from holding the function.