Western Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur constituency is set to see a high-voltage battle for votes in the coming days, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the first salvo against Congress candidate Imran Masood at a rally this afternoon.
Providing ammunition for the attack was an alleged threat made by the politician in 2014 that he would chop PM Modi into pieces.
"Yahan toh boti boti karne wale sahab bhi hain (This was where that man said he will chop me into pieces). He is a favourite of the Congress prince. Do keep in mind that they are the ones who threaten while we are the ones who respect and protect your daughters," PM Modi said at the rally aimed at garnering support for sitting BJP parliamentarian Raghav Lakhanpal.
But PM Modi's rally is only the start. While Mayawati, Akhilesh and Ajit Singh will hold the first joint rally of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance in Saharanpur on Sunday, the Congress will kick off its West Uttar Pradesh campaign with a rally headlined by Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia the following day.
The Prime Minister went on to speak about national security at the rally. "Congress supports the tukde-tukde gang. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party also want proof (of India's cross-border strikes), but the country demands that PM Modi protect the country," he said.
The Prime Minister's speech made an impact on many Saharanpur residents who made a beeline to the rally, especially women. "I liked what he said about daughters the most. He said that we will provide safety to girls, and provide them with education to ensure that they advance in life," said Aanchal Singhal, a 20-year-old college student who came to the rally with her family.
The BJP had arranged for nearly 200 buses to bring thousands of people to the rally
However, not everybody seemed happy. "There was 24-hour electricity supply during the Samajwadi Party rule. Now there is a power cut of six hours every day. Electricity is a major issue," said Jitender Kumar, another local resident.
Munesh Tyagi complained about the lack of jobs. "It's tough getting employment in the government because of so much reservation. And there are no factories here that can give us a job," he said.
Saharanpur is a highly polarised constituency with 42% Muslim population. The third candidate in the triangular contest, besides Imran Masood and Raghav Lakhanpal, is the coalition's Hazi Fazlur Rehman - a meat trader.
In 2014, Raghav Lakhanpal had defeated Imran Masood by 65,000 votes. BJP had 39% voteshare, followed by Congress with 34%, Bahujan Samaj Party with 19% and the Samajwadi Party with 4%. This time, there's a likelihood of the Congress cutting into the alliance's votebank.
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