Unnao: Over a year after former Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar was convicted in the rape case of a minor, his family is now canvassing in support of the BJP candidate who is fighting the bypolls in Unnao’s Bangarmau.
The Uttar Pradesh assembly seat, which fell vacant after Sengar’s conviction, is set to go to polls on 3 November.
As the campaign for byelections in seven UP seats heats up, Sengar’s wife and BJP leader Sangeeta Sengar is making regular appearances at public meetings in support of party candidate Srikant Katiyar. She is also issuing appeals on social media, seeking votes for Katiyar.
No one, however, is talking about the rape case in this bypoll. In the primarily three-corner contest, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress appear to be contesting on issues such as failure of Yogi Adityanath government and rising unemployment.
While there are mentions of the Hathras rape and murder case on their posters and in the slogans, the Unnao incident that made national headlines last year finds no mention.
Sengar family’s support to BJP
Kuldeep Sengar was found guilty and sentenced to life last year for raping a minor girl in Unnao’s Makhi village in 2017. Sengar was also sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for the murder of the victim’s father in 2018.
However, there is silent sympathy towards him among the local residents.
Sengar’s hold on Unnao was quite strong. According to residents of the area, the BJP could have comfortably won the seat had it fielded his wife.
“Leaders from opposition parties are consciously avoiding to rake up the issue related to vidhayak ji (ex-MLA Sengar) because they know that the general public still has a soft corner towards him,” said a youth from Bangarmau’s Jagtapur, who didn’t wish to be identified.
A member of Kuldeep Sengar’s extended family said their support is for the BJP candidate.
Sangeeta Sengar, who is also a BJP leader and the district’s panchayat president, is seeking votes for Katiyar. Other family members are also campaigning for the party.
Sources associated with the family, however, conceded that the Sengars failed to secure a ticket this time despite lobbying hard for it. The party denied them ticket due to the Hathras incident, which brought the Yogi Adityanath government a lot of flak for the way it handled the case.
Parties avoiding raising Sengar case
After Sengar was convicted last year, Congress general secretary and UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra vociferously raised the case. But this time, she has not conducted a single public meeting in the assembly segment.
Her party also doesn’t appear too eager to raise this as an electoral issue here. Congress candidate Arti Bajpai said the issue of Hathras incident is still fresh, “so we are putting more focus on it”.
Bajpai also said the people are frustrated with the Adityanath government so this time they will vote on the issue of unemployment, which the party is raising.
Leaders of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are also not raising the Sengar issue during their public meetings.
Samajwadi Party MLC Sunil Singh Sajan, who is continuously holding public meetings in support of SP candidate Suresh Pal, said the “cycle of change” in UP will begin from Unnao.
“The youth are upset. Businessmen are feeling let down. Women are extremely agitated too. The people of UP want to snatch the throne from BJP and wish to give it back to Akhilesh Yadav,” he said.
On 27 October, CM Yogi Adityanath held a public meeting in the area, highlighting his government’s initiative on the law and order front, but did not mention the Unnao incident. At his meet, the CM noted that not a single communal riot took place in the state in the last three years.
According to local residents, the issue of women’s safety is not new and they will vote on ‘development’.
Rajesh Singh, a resident of Tajpur in Bangarmau, said incidents related to crimes against women used to happen in the past too, but “those were never highlighted because there was not much coverage from media and social media”.
“Right now, the number of such crimes has decreased slightly. Police has become more active than before,” he said.
Lakshmi Kumari, a resident of Neval area, said Unnao’s name is being maligned on the pretext of such rape related incidents. “Fear is lurking in every village of every district, but in the last 2-3 years, the media has highlighted the cases from Unnao much more,” she said.
The contest in this seat is turning out to be three-cornered, with BSP’s Mahesh Pal seeming out of the fight and Muslim voters leaning towards the Congress due to SP’s denial of ticket to former MLA Badlu Khan.
The Bangarmau assembly seat has about 3.5 lakh registered voters, with around 68,000 of them Muslim. In the past, this seat has seen direct contests between the SP and the BSP. In 2012, this seat was won by Badlu Khan. But Sengar bagged this seat for the BJP in 2017.
The Congress has expressed confidence in Bajpai for the third time in a row. She is the daughter of Gopinath Dixit, who was UP’s home minister once. She has been conducting door-to-door campaigns here for the last several weeks.
The BJP has fielded its former district president Srikant Katiyar while SP has fielded local candidate Suresh Pal.