The communal and even caste divide created on account of Varun Gandhi's controversial speeches in Pilibhit has made the Lok Sabha election in this constituency quite unpredictable.
His alleged anti-Muslim utterances turned Varun into a 'Hindutva' hero and polarised the Hindu vote for him, particularly after the Mayawati government decided to invoke provisions of the stringent National Security Act against the young Bhartiya Janata Party nominee. However, it has also polarised Muslims in favour of his Congress rival V M Singh.
Interestingly, this is despite the presence of a Muslim candidate fielded by the Samajwadi Party. "Polarisation of Muslims was in reaction to what Varun Gandhi has been doing and there was reason for them to rally behind the Congress simply because it nominee V M Singh is seen as the most potent force against the BJP," Haroon Ahmad, a former Samwajwadi Party leader who recently switched sides to the Congress, told rediff.com.
He said, "Apart from being the only candidate with the capability of containing the BJP's new rabble-rouser, Singh is also known for his work among the poor and needy, particularly the farmers. He is all set to give Varun a run for his money."
However, there was no doubt that the slapping of NSA and subsequent refusal by the high court panel to ratify the government's decision had both given a boost to Varun's new found image as a 'Hindutva' mascot. But whether it would ensure his victory remains a million dollar question.
Of the 1.3 million voters in the constituency, there are about 350,000 Muslims and nearly 100,000 Sikhs. "The bulk of these votes are bound to go with Singh, because he has devoted himself to this constituency unlike Varun's mother Maneka who has been the local MP for five terms without doing anything substantial for this place," claimed Ahmad.
But Pilibhit also has about 850,000 Hindu voters and Varun may get a bulk of that vote. "We will support Varun Gandhi because he speaks up for Hindus," remarked Rajesh, a young worker at a petrol station. Ranjit, a college student, too felt that Varun deserved all Hindu support because he was ready to stand up for the community. Surprisingly that was despite the suspicion that whatever Varun did was a part of a well-orchestrated strategy by Maneka to whip up Hindu passions because otherwise she could not have got people to rally behind her son for whom she vacated this seat and moved to the neighbouring Aonla constituency.
But trouble seems to be brewing in the backward Kurmi community, that is numerically dominant with as many as 250,000 voters. According to a local resident Kamlesh Gangwar, "There have been repeated incidents of assault on Kurmis by Varun Gandhi's henchmen in different parts of Pibilhit, so a large chunk of the community would not like to support him."
Varun is also unlikely to get the support of about 37,000 Bengali migrant voters settled in a particular part of Pilibhit . And that was attributable to a sustained BJP campaign terming them as 'Bangladeshis'.
District Bharatiya Janata Party president Yogendra Singh Gangwar feels, "Varun Gandhi has shown the way for the BJP's revival in this state; he has the guts to speak out about the well being of the Hindus."
Asked what led him to believe that this election was a cakewalk for Varun, he shot back, "That's simple because the election is all others versus Varun." He also does not agree that Hindu polarisation would provoke Muslims too to polarise. "The fact Samajwadi Party had fielded a Muslim Riaz Ahmad will take care of that and I am sure Muslims will get divided between the SP and the Congress, thereby making Varun's path even smoother," Gangwar pointed out.
However, irrespective of who scores over whom, it was quite apparent that the communal and caste divide, forged essentially on account of Varun Gandhi's speeches, will surely have its bearing on the battle of the ballot to be played two days from now.