Kairana: Once famed as the birthplace of a renowned school of Hindustani music and an industrial town, now under a cloud of communal politics and unemployment, Kairana was Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s chosen ground to signal his return to the saddle in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh Saturday.
Kairana, where Shah embarked on a door-to-door campaign, has been in the national eye since 2016, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) raised the issue of an alleged exodus of Hindu families from the Muslim-majority town during the rule of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the state.
During the visit — his first such outreach campaign in this election — Shah brought this issue to the fore as he praised the Yogi Adityanath government’s work on law and order., which he described as a prerequisite for development.
“Yogi ji has improved law and order. Those who forced the exodus have had to flee. This is the kind of confidence we are seeing in the people of UP. I think that, in the coming days, Uttar Pradesh will become the most developed state of India,” he said.
The Kairana assembly seat is one of four under the Kairana parliamentary constituency.
The BJP has attributed the alleged lawlessness to Muslim ‘gangsters’ in the area supposedly encouraged by the former SP government, and cracked down.
Last week, Kairana’s sitting MLA, Nahid Hasan, was arrested while on the way to file his nomination for the upcoming polls. Hasan’s sister has now entered the race as an Independent candidate.
However, local residents say that “communal tensions” and law and order aren’t their biggest problem right now — it’s unemployment, with the Yogi government seen as failing to live up to its economic promises.
Kairana is a Muslim-dominated constituency, with 80 per cent of voters practising that faith, while the remainder consists of Jats, Gurjars, Kashyaps, Dalits, and Sainis.
In 2016, Kairana’s then MP, BJP leader Hukum Singh, released a list of 346 Hindus who had allegedly migrated from the town due to fear. The allegations went on to become a major issue in the 2017 assembly election.
The BJP emerged victorious in the election, and won three of the four assembly segments under the Kairana Lok Sabha seat (Gangoh, Thana Bhawan, Shamli). The fourth, Kairana, was won by the Samajwadi Party (SP).
For the BJP, this is an issue that typifies the alleged lawlessness that prevailed during Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure as chief minister and the SP’s policy of “Muslim appeasement”.
Leaders including Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have visited families that allegedly left the town, and promised compensation and “security”.
However, Yadav has denied that any such exodus took place, and hit out at Adityanath.
Ground realities in Kairana
Tucked inside the labyrinth of business establishments in Kairana’s main market is a shop run by the kin of Vinod Singhal, a 35-year-old Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) worker who was gunned down in nearby Shamli by three unidentified bike-borne assailants in 2014.
“Earlier, traders like us faced security issues. Extortionists used to roam around freely, but things have changed. Now, there is a sense of security. There is no communal tension now, nearly 90 per cent of my customers are Muslim. We Hindus and Muslims are living together happily,” Varun Singhal, a relative of Vinod, tells ThePrint.
Although Singhal is sure that he will vote for the BJP, he says, “The government has not fulfilled the promises made to the families of those who were killed. We were promised economic assistance and employment. Neither the previous government nor the Yogi government has kept its word. Yogi had come and met us, but the promises remained unfulfilled.”
Another trader in the market, Samim Kureshi, calls the ‘exodus’ a non-issue. “The major issue we face here is unemployment. The BJP should pay attention to this, rather than diverting to issues like the Hindu exodus.”
Another shopkeeper, Tansuvar, says, “We voted for Modi in 2014 and 2017. The troublemakers have been jailed, but to brand the whole Muslim community as goondas is wrong. Elections shouldn’t be turned into a communal exercise — it will be detrimental for Kairana.”
He adds, “The SP MLA, Nahid Hasan, has been falsely implicated like Azam Khan. The charges against Khan are frivolous. The BJP are behaving like they are gods.”
SP MP Khan, jailed since 2020 under cases filed during the tenure of the Yogi government (most pertaining to allegations cheating and forgery), will be his party’s candidate from his home turf, Rampur, in this election.
The daughter’s launch
Branded as a mascot for his party’s alleged misrule, Hasan was arrested under the Gangsters Act on 15 January. Last year, his mother and former Kairana MP Tabassum Hasan had been booked alongside him under the same Act.
With both he and his mother in a spot, Nahid Hasan’s sister Iqra Hasan has entered the fray as an Independent candidate. The 27-year-old law graduate from the University of London and Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi, has now launched her campaign for the seat.
Calling the allegations against her mother and brother false, she says, “When I returned home in January last year, the Gangsters Act was imposed against my brother and mother, now my duty is to back my family. My mother is a former MP and now they have charged her as a gangster.”
She adds, “They (the BJP) are trying to win Kairana at any cost. They were defeated in the last assembly election, so they are desperately trying to build a false narrative to win this seat. Unemployment is the biggest issue here. But in the past five years, they have been highlighting the issue of the Ram temple and now the alleged exodus.”
“The people here know who is the biggest criminal. Yogi has closed all the criminal cases after assuming power, all are aware of that. Kairana is not an island, it is a part of UP. Don’t make elections a Hindu-Muslim issue,” she says.
Pocket borough of two families
Kairana has seen two families — said to be descended from a single clan, with a branch having converted to Islam — representing it since the 1970s. BJP Gurjar leader Hukum Singh won from here seven times as an MLA and once as an MP in 2014.
Hukum Singh started his electoral career with the Congress in 1974 when he won his first assembly election from Kairana.
Later, he won the assembly seat on a Janata Party ticket. After joining the BJP in 1995 he represented the seat four times and was elected to the Lok Sabha from the corresponding Kairana parliamentary constituency in 2014. He remained Kairana’s MP until his death in 2018.
A minister in the Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh governments, Hukum Singh was considered a leader of the Gurjar community in UP. In this election, his daughter Mriganka Singh is making her third attempt to win this seat.
Meanwhile — in a parallel career — Munawwar Hasan, father of Nahid Hasan and Iqra Hassan and husband of former MP Tabassum Hasan, was a major figure in Kairana’s politics until his death in 2008, having been associated with both the SP and the BSP over his long career.
He represented Kairana thrice — in the assembly between 1991 and 1996, and in the Lok Sabha in 1996-1998 and 2004-2008. His wife, Tabassum, won the Lok Sabha seat in 2009, and in the 2018 bypoll, when she defeated Mriganka after Hukum Singh’s death.
“Hukum Singh’s family is very respected and my father had a good relationship with him despite being in a different party. We still share a good relationship,” says Iqra.
Mriganka says, “Last time, I lost the election with a margin of just 20,000 votes. We are making the region’s development the main issue, and people also want a good law-and- order situation and peace in the area.”
Why is Kairana important for every political party?
Despite having won 51 out of the 71 seats in western UP in 2017, the BJP feels that the year-long farmer’s protest against the now-repealed controversial agriculture laws may dent its chances in the assembly polls.
The party is concerned about the probability of Jat votes shifting in the region. The region has traditionally supported the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), with Jats being the dominant Hindu demographic, alongside a sizeable population of Jat Muslims.
A senior BJP leader said, according to their calculations, “in the last election we got 80 per cent of Jat votes from this area”.
“Our effort is to break the Jat vote bank. We are hopeful of polarising Gurjar, Saini, and most Dalit votes. But to defeat the SP and RLD, we need Hindu mobilisation. This will not only benefit Kairana but the entire state,” he added.
Kairana votes in the first phase of the polls on 10 February.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)