INLD turncoats fight anti-incumbency, promote BJP’s ‘Vikas’ model
BJP has hedged its bets on two MLAs previously elected on INLD tickets to make inroads into the Mewat region of southern Haryana.
Of the three assembly constituencies in the region, BJP has fielded sitting INLD MLAs Naseem Ahmed from Firozepur Jhirka and Zakir Hussain from Nuh. BJP fielded Nauksham Chaudhary, 27, who joined it 45 days ago from Punhana, as the region’s only woman candidate. As ET travelled through the region, it found that ‘vikas’ and ‘aman’ remained the most prominent issues among voters in the area, which has a Muslim population of over 70%. Also, unlike other constituencies of the state, this is an area where popular figures such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Manohar Lal do not take precedence over local candidates and issues, which are mainly lack of colleges, water for drinking and irrigation and accessible railway line.
BJP’S ‘ACHILLES’ HEEL’
Mewat, which is dominated by Meo-Muslims also known as Rajput Muslims has been the turf for both Congress and Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD. This area has evaded BJP through all elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections the party swept through the state riding high on PM and CM’s policies but managed to win only one third of the total votes polled by Congress. In 2014, all three constituencies evaded that success of PM Modi and the party struggled to even be the second runner-up in the region.
With the Niti Aayog declaring it the ‘most backward district’ in the country as part of its ‘aspirational district’ programme, BJP has tried to make inroads in the region. Apart from running women-centric health and nutrition programmes, the CM last year inaugurated a rainy well project to solves the region's water woes by 2022. Now, BJP is facing stiff competition from former Congress MLA Mohammad Ilyas in Punhana, which voted the least for it in the 2019 elections and ex-Congress MLA Atif Ahmed in Nuh.
Facing anti-incumbency and a bleak future for INLD, the two turncoat candidates are heavily relying on BJP’s development agenda. “BJP has a proven track record and its policies of employment and development infrastructure have helped other communities. It is in our interest to vote for BJP,” said Naseem Ahmed at a public meeting in Mahun village in Ferozepur Jhirka. Khan told the crowd that voting for BJP is the only way to ensure the safety of the community. “Ahmed was never available to the public in his 10 years as an MLA. But he is a face from our community and with BJP government at the Centre and state, we would rather trust him,” said 25-year-old shopkeeper Arif Mohammad from Mahun.
FEAR OF MOB LYNCHING
Even as those accused in the Pehlu Khan mob lynching case stand acquitted, voters continue to worry about the safety of the community. In Pehlu Khan's village Jaisinghpur under Nuh Assembly constituency, villagers are divided between Congress and BJP. But security is the main concern. Nafees Mohammad, a 55-year-old villager, who rears cattle for selling milk said no one has bought a cow in the village since the incident in 2017. "We cannot sell the ones we already have. But we cannot think of buying a cow for our livelihood any more. Forget development, if our children are not safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, BJP candidates steer clear of the issue. "There were no cases of lynching in Haryana. Pehlu Khan was killed in Alwar, which is in Rajasthan," Nuh candidate Zakir Hussain told ET. Ex-Congress candidate Atif Ahmed, however, is using the issue to train his guns at BJP. "Rajasthan, which is a Congress-ruled state has an antilynching law. In the last five years, BJP has made no efforts to control the issue or set extra budgets for Mewat,” he said.