Dalit Votes Hold Key in Meerut as 'Screen Ram' Faces Electoral Uncertainty; Saffron Party Dismayed by Low Turnout

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Local BJP workers said they were banking on three factors: higher voting percentage, division in Dalit votes and BJP getting a sizable Dalit vote share.
Representational Image
Representational ImagePhoto: Business Standard

Meerut/New Delhi: Eight seats of western Uttar Pradesh (Aligarh, Baghpat, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Amroha, Gautam Budh Nagar, and Mathura) went to polls on April 26 in the second phase of ongoing general elections. The region recorded a 53.02% turnout.

In the triangular contest in Meerut, one of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats, the fates of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Arun Govil, best known for portraying Lord Ram in the hit television series ‘Ramayana’, the Samajwadi Party (SP)’s Sunita Verma, a Dalit by caste, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s Devvarat Tyagi, a Brahmin candidate, have been sealed in electronic voting machines (EVMs).

The BJP candidate’s success mostly hinges on the split of Dalit votes and a greater voting percentage from the town. While it is difficult to predict at this stage any division in the votes of socially and economically marginalized communities, the voting percentage is something the saffron party must worry about. It witnessed a dip compared to the 2019 general elections.

Verma is believed to have given a tough fight to Govil and Tyagi (a former mayor of Meerut) both. The election in this seat is interesting, though, because no major party has fielded a Muslim candidate. The minority community has a significant proportion in the constituency.

The last few Lok Sabha elections in Meerut have seen a tri-cornered fight between the BJP, the SP, and the BSP, with Muslim votes being split between the two parties led by former chief ministers Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.

Dalits too have a good population here. After Muslims, it is the second-largest voter grouping. Usually, the majority of them support the BSP.

When the SP and the BSP ran jointly in the most recent Lok Sabha elections, the BJP was able to win the seat by a margin of less than 5,000 votes.

Recognized for his portrayal of Lord Ram on television, Govil capitalized on the popularity of ‘Ramayana’ among the populace in light of construction of the grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The BJP had anticipated that while Govil fought the label of “outsider”, he would garner some Dalit votes and benefit the party from a larger voter turnout and the Modi factor.

The Mooknayak spoke to Chaudhary Charan Singh University students about the candidates and the concerns surrounding this Lok Sabha seat.

A research researcher named Deepak Sharma, who was standing outside a polling booth, called Govil an “outsider”. “He is not a native. He is so sophisticated that he refused to have garlands placed on him and wore gloves when shaking hands,” he noted.

Ravi Kumar, another research scholar, echoed similar thoughts when he questioned, “Were there no other qualified candidates? We wanted a neta (politician), not an abhineta (actor) as becoming a politician requires a lot of time and effort.”

Sharma and fellow students, however, stated keeping with their families’ tradition, they voted for the saffron party.

As the Congress-SP alliance fielded a Dalit this time, Ravi, a Khatik by caste, stated he voted in favour of Verma as determined by the elders of his village — which had supported the BJP in previous elections.

Khawajahanpur native Mohd Yousuf, who works at a tailor business on Garh Road in Meerut, claimed over 90% of his community voted for the Opposition alliance nominee. He too noted the outcome ultimately hinges on Dalit votes.

Talking about the prospect of their party’s candidate, BJP workers agreed that the absence of a Muslim candidate and the Dalit candidate fielded by the SP made things difficult this time.

“Three factors were very important for our victory: higher voting percentage from Meerut Assembly Cantonment seat, division in Dalit votes and BJP getting a sizable Dalit vote share,” said one of the workers, adding they are disappointed by the declined turnout.

The spouse of SP candidate Sunita Verma, Yogesh Verma, predicted that the party would win over 95% of the Muslim votes in this seat. As he himself was a member of the BSP and belongs to the Jatav community, which has a considerable population in the constituency, he further stated Dalits in large numbers have also supported his wife.

However, Govil claimed that he would emerge victorious and his party (the BJP) would win over 400 seats. “I got blessings from every section of the society, and I am sure that they would ensure my victory. We have full hope that this time, the BJP will cross the 400 mark in the Lok Sabha,” he said as the voting was underway in the constituency.

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