In Alwar Bypoll Campaign, Cow And Caste Recurring Themes

Bypoll to the Alwar seat is scheduled to be held on January 29, nearly nine months after Pehlu Khan was lynched by a mob while transporting cows, a case that sparked nationwide outrage.

Bypoll to Alwar Lok Sabha seat is being held after the sitting lawmaker died in September.

Alwar, Rajasthan: In the run-up to the parliamentary bypoll to the Alwar seat in Rajasthan, it's not just caste equation that is at play. Congress, the state's main opposition party, has accused the ruling BJP of polarising the electorate. The bypoll scheduled to be held on January 29 will see a fight between BJP's Jaswant Yadav, a minister in the Vasundhara Raje government, and Karan Yadav of the Congress. Yadavs make up about 4 per cent of the 18 lakh voters in the constituency.

The Congress has complained to the election commission, alleging that Jaswant Yadav, at an election rally on January 8, said, "If you are Hindu, vote for the BJP; Muslims will go with the Congress". The BJP denies the allegation. "Such videos have cropped up earlier. It's nothing but a conspiracy. When someone complains, it means he is a loser," says Jaswant Yadav.

Earlier this month, Banwari Lal Singhal, the BJP MLA from Alwar who is leading the party's election campaign, put up a Facebook post alleging that "Muslims were increasing their population  with an eye on establishing their rule in the country by 2030". Speaking to NDTV today, Mr Singh stood by his remarks.  

Alwar is home to nearly three lakh Meo Muslims -- traditional cattle rearers like 55-year-old Pehlu Khan who was beaten to death in April last year, 50 kilometres from Alwar city. Police arrested seven people, mostly members of a cow protection group. They are now out on bail. The other accused named by Mr Khan in his FIR were let off after a probe by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) found that they were not at the spot when Mr Khan was being brutally beaten. 

In December, BJP legislator Gyan Dev Ahuja issued a warning -- "if you smuggle or slaughter cows, you will be killed". He was reacting to an incident where a man called Zakir Khan was beaten by a mob on the suspicion of being a cattle smuggler.  

Last year, Alwar registered 87 cases under the Rajasthan Bovine Act. Police crackdown against cattle traffickers saw two shootouts last month in which one person was killed.

"The atmosphere is being vitiated. If I want to buy a cow, I cannot. It will be snatched on the way. To buy a cow, I have to take a Hindu person along with me," says Abbas, a cattle rearer.

Former union minister Jitendra Singh of the Congress, who lost the Alwar Lok Sabha seat to the BJP in 2014, says development is his party's campaign focus for the bypoll. "Development projects have been stalled. They (BJP) have lowered the level of political discourse and are now trying to polarise," alleges Mr Singh.

The Lok Sabha bypoll, necessitated due to the death of BJP lawmaker Mahant Chandnath in September, comes ahead of the assembly elections in the state due later this year.