Kairana constituency in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pardesh has virtually assumed the dimension of a strategic player in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Kairana bypoll, slated for Monday, will also see a joint opposition taking on the ruling BJP.
Located around 630 km from capital city of Lucknow, the Lok Sabha constituency has five assembly segments namely Shamli, Thana Bhawan and Kairana in Shamli district, and Gangoh and Nakur in Saharanpur district. There are nearly 17 lakh voters in the constituency with a significant number of Muslims, Jats and Dalit voters.
RLD party worker Abdul Hakeem Khan said he had never seen an election in which the ruling party was being challenged by a joint opposition.
"This is the beauty of our democracy," he said.
The constituency fell vacant after the death of BJP MP Hukum Singh, whose daughter Mriganka Singh is now the party's candidate for the bypoll. She is fighting Rashtriya Lok Dal's (RLD) Tabassum Hasan, who is supported by the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The opposition hopes that by consolidating anti-BJP votes, they will repeat the success of the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bye-elections, where the ruling party suffered an unexpected defeat.
The withdrawal of candidature of Lok Dal candidate Kanwar Hasan from the fray and his joining of the RLD has only added to the opposition's confidence.
The ruling BJP, on the other hand, is making extra efforts to retain the seat to try and send a strong message to voters, party cadres as well as the opposition parties -- that the drubbing in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bye-elections was an aberration, and that it was still strong in western UP.
"The results of the May 28 bypolls may set the tone and tenor for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections," Rajesh Kumar Saini, manager of a hotel on the busy Shamli-Panipat road, said. .
Khan exuded confidence that "Kairana's daughter-in-law Tabassum Hasan will defeat Kairana's daughter (Mriganka Singh)."
The Yogi Adityanath-led state government has left no stone unturned in campaigning for the bypoll. He along with his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya campaigned in Saharanpur and Shamli.
Apart from them, the BJP has thrown in at least five state ministers into the 'fight for Kairana'. They include Dharam Singh Saini (minister of state for Ayush), Suresh Rana (sugarcane development minister), Anupama Jaiswal (basic education minister) Surya Pratap Shahi (agriculture minister) and Laxmi Narayan (religious affairs, culture, minority welfare, waqf and Haj minister).
Of these, Saini and Rana are MLAs from Nakur and Thana Bhawan assembly segments, respectively of the constituency. Jaiswal is the minister in charge of Shamli district, while Surya Pratap Shahi is the minister in charge of Saharanpur.
"Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary has been roped in since he hails from a farming background," a senior UP BJP leader said.
BJP MPs Sanjiv Baliyan, Raghav Lakhan Pal, Vijay Pal Singh Tomar and Kanta Kardam have also actively campaigned for Mriganka Singh.
The SP and Congress, however, termed the line-up of UP ministers as a sign of "party jitters".
According to the locals, the major issues in this bypoll are law and order and the woes of sugarcane growers.
RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan had accused the BJP-led state government of resorting to divisive politics.
"Sugarcane growers in the region are feeling the maximum amount of pain, as no payments have been made to them by the state government," she told PTI, rejecting the official claim that the dues from sugar mills were being cleared.
The issue was also raised during an election meeting of state minister Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary, who said that the dues accumulated from the time of the past governments had been paid out, and the rest would be settled soon.
"In Uttar Pradesh, 10,828.59 lakh quintals of sugarcane were purchased by sugar mills from farmers during the BJP government in 2017-18, as compared to 6443.41 lakh quintals under the Samajawadi Party government in 2015-16. Similarly, Rs 21,186.56 crore payments were made during the BJP government in the state in 2017-18, in comparison to Rs 11,841.34 crore made during the SP government in 2015-16," BJP spokesperson Chandramohan said.
Divergent views also emerged on the reported 2016 exodus of Hindu families from Kairana.
"The area is adjacent to Panipat district in Haryana. The labourers (both Hindus and Muslims) from the area go to the neighbouring state to work in the industries there. They go in the morning and return in the evening," Hasan said while rejecting the claims of any such exodus.
The RLD leader said the locked houses, even of Muslims who had gone to Panipat for work, were photographed and used as a "propaganda".
"In Kairana, both Hindus and Muslims live in peace," she added.
BJP candidate Mriganka Singh, on the other hand, said, "The exodus of Hindu families from Kairana has stopped now. But hundreds of Hindu families had fled from Kairana out of fear and harassment before the 2017 UP Assembly elections".
Apart from Kairana, bypoll to Noorpur assembly constituency in the state will also be held on Monday.