The chief guest arrived four-and-a half hours late. “I got delayed because of the broken roads in the area,” said Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manager in Uttar Pradesh. “When Narendra Modi comes to power, each village will have proper roads and electricity.”
Shah, 50, is the former Home Minister of Gujarat who has been accused in a fake encounter case and was asked by the Supreme Court of India in 2010 to stay away from the state to prevent him from influencing witnesses. He was accompanied to the meeting by BJP legislator Suresh Rana, who was imprisoned for 12 days for his role in precipitating riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in August and September that left 49 people dead.
Since the Raajhar event was billed as a private meeting with the Jat community organised by Amit Pawar, an industrialist who owns mines in Indonesia, Shah did not use the microphone to address the gathering of 400 Jat men for the fear of violating the model code of conduct.
Raajhar village is the headquarters of the Batteesaa Khaps, a sub-group of the Jat community that dominates this sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh. Western Uttar Pradesh has 25 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Jats have been the traditional vote base of Ajit Singh’s Rashtra Lok Dal. But this September, after the communal riots in the area between Jats and Muslims, the Jat vote began to shift towards the BJP, which won only 10 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in the state.
In the wake of the riots, the BJP not only managed to repackage the Jat identity into that of a larger Hindu one but also deflect attention from the bad governance of its own candidates. It fanned the demand for the withdrawal of the 356 cases against members of the Jat community for rioting, polarising voters on communal lines.
Though the crowd applauded as Shah blamed the bad roads for his unpunctuality, his explanation didn’t cut much ice. After all, the constituency has been ruled by BJP MLA Hukum Singh for over two decades. Singh is one of the 16 political leaders accused of sparking off the Muzaffarnagar riots, and was the Lok Sabha candidate for whom Shah is campaigning.
Suddenly, one man shouted, “We have only two demands: there should be a separate law to ban same gotra self-choice marriages under the Hindu law and all cases against Jats in the communal riots must be withdrawn.”
Shah raised his hand to reassure the man. “For the integrity of this community, the answer is Modi government,” he said. “Not the government who gives compensation to those who killed Jats.”
Shah added, “This is the time to avenge. The leaders standing next to me” – he pointed to Suresh Rana and Hukum Singh – “have also been humiliated. A man can sleep hungry but not humiliated. This is the time to take revenge by voting for Modi. This will defeat both the governments: the one at the Centre and UP government who lathi-charged and tortured our leaders.”
The honour theme spilled over into the next meeting in the Raja Rani banquet hall in Shamli district. This time, Shah was joined by Ajit Singh, the headman of Lissad, one of villages worst affected in the riots, who stands accused of fanning the violence. Several khap leaders of the Jat community were also present.
The meeting started with a request from Udayvir Pehelka, an octogenarian Jat leader: “If Amit Shah has come to talk to us, he must promise that he will help us withdraw all the false cases against the Jats and secondly, address a national problem, which is to control the population of this country, else soon enough votes from our community will not count and only” – he stopped to make a sign indicating a beard under his chin – “they will be present everywhere”.
When Shah took the stage, he declared, “This election is the election of honour and revenge.” He said that women in UP were not safe. “And when we protect them, we are called rioters because Mullah Mulayam is busy defending the minority”, he said, making a reference to the support Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party gives to the area’s Muslims.
Shah quoted a Narendra Modi’s tweet, promising “to stop pink revolution and start green revolution”. The pink revolution referred to the slaughter of cows and animals, he explained. “Beggars have turned millionaires by running butcher houses,” Shah claimed, taking another swipe at the area’s Muslim community.
He ended by invoking Pakistan, rhetoric that always plays well for a community that sends large numbers of members to the security forces. “When Narendra Modi comes to power on May 16, Pakistan will learn a lesson for beheading our three soldiers,” Shah said. “Uttar Pradesh has always played a role in change. This time western Uttar Pradesh must ensure that Modi comes to power!”