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Uttar Pradesh Elections: Huge Churn in Saharanpur, 4 Leaders Switch in 3 Days

BSP was the dominant party in Saharanpur in the 2000s. But now Imran Masood's entry has given SP a major opening.

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Edited By :Tejas Harad

The district at Uttar Pradesh's (UP's) northernmost tip – Saharanpur – has witnessed a major political upheaval in the past three days, with four top leaders from the district changing their political affiliations.

On 10 January, Nauman Masood, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) ticket aspirant from Gangoh shifted to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Then on 12 January, three big exits took place from the Congress.

  • Former MLA and Congress national secretary Imran Masood joined the Samajwadi Party (SP)

  • MLA from Saharanpur Masood Akhtar joined the SP

  • MLA from Behat Naresh Saini joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

These four shifts are likely to completely change the political equations in the district.

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Political Battleground of Saharanpur

The BSP has consistently been a stronger player in the Saharanpur district since 1996. BSP chief Mayawati even contested and won from the Harora seat in the district in 1996 and 2002.

The BSP won a lion's share of the district's seven seats for three successive elections: four in 2002 and 2012 and as high as six out of seven during the BSP wave of 2007. From that it came down to zero in 2017.

Dalits account for 22 percent of the population in Saharanpur but what is significant is that Jatavs, the community Mayawati belongs to, account for a higher proportion than in many other districts. The seat also has a sizeable chunk of Gujjar, Upper Caste and Saini voters.

Then Muslims are 42 percent in the district. Unlike the rest of UP where SP has been the main choice for Muslim voters, in Saharanpur the BSP and Congress get a sizeable chunk of the community's vote.

This is an important district from the point of view of Indian Muslims as the Darul Uloom seminar at Deoband falls in the Saharanpur district.

The centre of Muslim political representation in the district has been the Masood family.

Socialist leader Rasheed Masood won the Saharanpur Lok Sabha seat five times, first as part of the Janata Party, then the Lok Dal, the Janata Dal and finally the SP in 2004. In 2011, he joined the Congress party.

Imran Masood and Nauman Masood are both nephews of Rasheed Masood.

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What Has Changed Now?

Despite being the main choice of the Muslims in much of UP, SP has consistently underperformed in Saharanpur. In the past two decades, the party has never won more than one seat in the district. It won just two in 1996.

Significantly, no Muslim has been elected on an SP ticket in the district in any assembly election.

This is likely to change with the entry of of Imran Masood and Masood Akhtar. The SP is now well placed to replace the BSP and the Congress as the main claimant to the Muslim community's support in the district.

They may contest from the Nakur and Saharanpur seats respectively.

Imran Masood is said to be the most popular Muslim leader in the district, though he lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to BSP's Haji Fazlurrehman, mainly due to the arithmetic of the Mahagathbandhan.

The SP already has a sitting MLA from the district, Sanjay Garg, from the Saharanpur Nagar seat. Garg is still considered a strong candidate in his seat and gets some support from Vaishya and Brahmin voters in addition to Muslims. He was recently at the receiving end of a campaign by the BJP alleging that he had named a Shamshan Ghat in the city after a Muslim.

However, on the flipside for the SP-led alliance, Nauman Masood quit the RLD and joined the BSP. He was preparing to contest from the Gangoh seat. But apparently the seat was falling in the SP quota and not the RLD's, that's why he decided to move to the BSP.

A Muslim candidate hasn't won from Gangoh in the past two Assembly elections and one by-election.

The SP is likely to field Chaudhary Inder Sain from the seat. He's the son of former Saharanpur MP Chaudhary Yashpal Singh, a prominent Gujjar leader from the area.

The other seat where equations have now changed is Behat, where sitting MLA Naresh Saini has joined the BJP. Behat hasn't been an easy seat for the BJP due to a high concentration of Muslim voters. The party lost the seat by a sizeable margin in 2017 and lost its deposit in 2012. Even amidst the Modi waves of 2014 and 2019, the BJP continued to trail in the Behat segment.

The party would now hope that Saini's induction would improve its chances of winning the seat.

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What's the Big Picture?

In some ways, what's happening in Saharanpur is part of the larger story of the UP elections – an increasing degree of bipolarity compared to previous Assembly polls with the SP and BJP gaining at the expense of others.

However, the BSP should not be written off. It will still remain a formidable party in the district if it retains its core base of Jatav voters, even if there may be erosion of its support among the Muslims.

The most worrying news is for the Congress. This was supposed to be one of its most competitive districts in the state and it was in the fight in at least three-four seats in the district. But with Masood Akhtar, Naresh Saini and especially Imran Masood gone, the Congress may find it difficult to stay relevant in the district.

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