KAIRANA, Uttar Pradesh — Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath wore saffron robes and roared into the mike at a rally ground in Shamli, Mriganka Singh — the candidate he was campaigning for in Kairana — wore a light green saree and delivered a barely audible address to the throng of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters.
On first impressions, the contrast between the two could not have been starker. Singh is the daughter of BJP's Hukum Singh, the former MP from Kairana, who once floated the (now disproved) theory of a Hindu exodus in his constituency, and quietly echoes the Hindutva themes that her Chief Minister holds dear.
Hukum Singh died earlier this year; his daughter Mriganka — a 59-year-old single mother of three girls and a boy, (a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer and law student) — entered politics in 2017, but lost to Nahid Hasan of the Samajwadi Party. Now, she is up against Hasan's mother, Tabassum Hasan, who is the candidate for the united opposition led by the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
For the BJP, winning Kairana is a matter of prestige, especially after its by-poll losses in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. By-poll losses are largely responsible for BJP's reduced seats in Lok Sabha - 282 seats in 2014 to 272.
In a conversation with HuffPost India, Singh talked about her disenchantment with religious polarisation and the kind of leader that she hopes to be.
Your father floated the idea of a Hindu exodus, but it turned out not to be true.
There was time two years back when people were living in fear and agony because of the criminality in the area. A lot more criminals were very dominant and they were getting protection by the present family that is contesting. There was a total law and order breakdown. The police would take no action against the people belonging to one community. There were three or four murders because the criminals demanded ransom money and they refused to pay. People were killed sitting in their shops.
You are saying there was an exodus?
Yes, to an extent, yes. The numbers have been different. It may not have been 300, even if it was 30 who left the town of fear, it is the same. The numbers may have been exaggerated because the numbers were given by local party workers. Some of those on the list had only gone for business.
There is a difference between 30 and 300.
I didn't mean just 30. I said that to make a point, there were a few things here and there. Some people left not in the past two years, but the past five years, but there was a problem.
There is no denying that communal color given to it.
There is no communality attached to it. It was about the deterioration of law and order and lack of policing. The criminals, who incidentally belong to one particular community, were getting more emboldened because no action was being taken against them.Criminals do not have any religion. A criminal can belong to any caste, creed or community. But, at that point of time, a lot more criminals were coming from this community and they were getting patronage from this family.
There is no communality attached to it. It was about the deterioration of law and order and lack of policing.
Has the problem been solved?
Yes, absolutely. A few families have been even returned and set up business again. The law and order situation has improved. Earlier, they were petty robberies, people from one particular community, because they are poor, would steal cows and sell them. That is over now. The cows can now stay open and farmers don't have to worry.
You never say Hindu or Muslim.
I don't like taking the name of any community. Everybody knows the situation and I don't want get into communalism. I just want to be neutral. Here, people are uneducated and they talk like this - Hindu-Muslim. There is nothing like that, everyone comes to our house all the time. All right-minded people will appreciate my efforts.
I don't like taking the name of any community. Everybody knows the situation and I don't want get into communalism. I just want to be neutral.
BJP leaders repeatedly raised polarising issues, Jammu and Kashmir, Muzaffarnagar riots, in their speeches. You are the face of the campaign. How do you feel about it?
That was a bitter truth. I have the same opinions, I share the same thoughts. What they spoke was okay, 80 percent of it was alright, it was based in fact.
Why is the government dropping cases linked to the Muazaffarnagar riots?
The government at that point of time implicated people to appease Muslims because they were agitating. There are genuine cases, but certain people did get implicated and that is also a reality.
Your party has a divisive ideology. How will you survive?
The party had certain origins, but I think leaders have done a reality check, and there can be no other way forward other than 'sab ka saath, sab ka vikas.' I'm not divisive. I'm a very neutral person. I don't have strong opinions. I like to be balanced. I believe in live and let live. You wait and see the results on the 31st. I believe a lot of Muslims will vote for me. These are the kind of vibes I'm getting so let's see if it turns into votes.
I believe a lot of Muslims will vote for me.
The BJP is at a disadvantage because of the sugarcane crisis. How are you dealing it?
The government has taken very serious notice of the problem. The crisis is because of over production of sugarcane. There is three times more yield. The total payment that has been released is more than it was two years back. There is also misinformation and the party cadres are trying to inform people about the reality. People tell me that is one of the hardest fought election. There are some 500 people working on this campaign, MLAs, ex-MLAs, ex-MPs.
What do you make of the controversy over Jinnah's portrait in AMU?
Even if it is not there, it is okay, but it could have been left alone. This generation is not connected with it, but perhaps the people who put it up, when they did in the past, had some sentiment with it. I don't know why it became such an issue.
I don't know why it became such an issue.
Was it difficult being a single mother to four children.
No. I spent 25 years raising my children, but with my father's blessings things have always been easy for me. My four sisters have been living in America for the past 40 years. I was his favorite. I got love from both my mother and father. I have three daughters, one is an engineer, another is a doctor and the third is a doctor. My son is still with me.
Are you running to honor your father's memory or because you want to be in politics?
I've been inspired by my father. I have always been very closely connected to him and his politics. But I also want to be in politics. I aspire to be in politics. My dad saw this and that is why he gave me the opportunity. I ran in 2017 and lost, but I have not given up.
What will you be your priority if you win?
I want to improve the health facilities in the area. These are in a pathetic state. It makes me feel so sad. There is hardly any infrastructure. The doctors don't want to serve in the villages. People have to come to town to get health facilities. Education is still okay, at least the master comes and there is some infrastructure, but health is completely neglected.
I want to improve the health facilities in the area. These are in a pathetic state.
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