The Melody Against UP’s Kairana Gutter Speech

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Kairana, the small town in western Uttar Pradesh, has a glorious and melodious connection to the most influential gharana in Hindustani classical music. The name, Kairana gharana, which thrives in Maharashtra and Karnataka, comes from the town of West UP where the gharana’s founder, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, was born in 1872. He is recognized as one of the artists who defined Hindustani classical music (he died in 1937).

The gharana’s journey begins with Ustad’s employment as a court musician by the Gaekwads of Baroda. There, he will meet Tarabai Mane, a member of the royal family, and the two will fall in love. Because the family disapproved, they left the state and moved to Bombay (today it would be called “Love Jihad”). The couple will separate in 1922, but five children are born from this union, all accomplished musicians, in particular Hirabai Barodekar. Abdul Karim Khan’s personal life was colorful and in every sense a synthesis of Hindu and Muslim.

He left a musical legacy that would travel to Maharashtra and the Hubli-Dharwad belt of Karnataka, where this great school of music is still cultivated. One of the most famous students of Ustad would be Ramachandra Kundgolkar Saunshi, popularly known as Pandit Sawai Gandharva who would, in turn, be the guru of Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal among others. According to anecdotes about great musicians, Bhimsen Joshi once heard a recording of Abdul Karim Khan singing a thumri on the radio and said that it inspired him to want to continue singing seriously.

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The same Kairana is often in the news for all the wrong reasons now that election season is upon us. On January 23, Union Home Minister Amit Shah made a significant move in the ongoing elections in Uttar Pradesh when he arrived in Kairana who are voting in the first phase on February 10 . The second most important individual in the BJP command structure then went door to door campaigning. One may wonder why Kairana?

Perhaps because since 2016, Kairana has been part of the narrative of Hindu-Muslim polarization in the region, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its lawmakers claiming that around 250 Hindu families have migrated from Kairana for fear of “Muslims and criminals”. This is a much contested claim. Kairana is currently part of Shamli district which was created out of Muzaffarnagar district: it is indeed a constituency with a large Muslim population. It is difficult to obtain the demographics of the entire constituency, but Kairana town, according to data from the 2011 census, has an 80% Muslim population.

Presumably, the Home Secretary went there because the ‘Hindu in danger’ narrative is key to the BJP’s strategy for the first two phases of voting in the UP west, on February 10-14 . It is the region with the highest percentage of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. Kairana is also part of the belt hard hit by the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots which pitted the Jats against the Muslims. Connect this to the fact that three days after visiting Kairana, the Home Minister summoned the Jat leaders of the BJP. At the meeting, he even suggested that the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), led by Jayant Chaudhary, was misled into allying with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and chose “a wrong house”, implying that the doors of the BJP is open to this party. (The RLD is traditionally considered the party of the Jat community).

But Kairana itself is a seat dominated by the Gujjar OBC community, and the Muslim candidate for the SP and the Hindu candidate for the BJP are Gujjars who historically belong to the same clan and family, with one wing having converted to the ‘Islam. We can therefore see the glass as empty and imply that there is great hatred among the Gujjars of Kairana. Or we can see the glass half full and see that after gesticulating during the elections, the two political clans of Kairana are starting to live quite peacefully again, side by side. As the locals say, “they are all connected to each other”.

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Here is a brief summary of the two Gujjar Muslim and Gujjar Hindu political “dynasties” of Kairana. The BJP candidate is Mriganka Singh, the daughter of late BJP legislator Hukum Singh, who first raised the issue of ‘exodus’ and then hinted that it was more about the law and the order than religion, but there was some ambiguity in his positions. He became MP for Kairana, winning the 2014 wave that brought Narendra Modi to power.

But after his death in 2018, a Lok Sabha by-election was held and won by Tabassum Hasan, who also won that seat in the 2009 general election as a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) member. (She would lose to the BJP in 2019). Tabassum Hasan is the wife of the late Chaudhary Munawar Hasan, who is considered the founder of the Gujjar Muslim political dynasty of Kairana. Prior to his death in 2008, he had served as both MP and MP for Kairana from the SP. The current SP-RLD candidate, Nahid Hasan, is the son of Tabassum and Munawar Hasan. He is also a sitting MP and has charges against him under the Gangsters Act which the family say are all political. (Akhilesh Yadav also said that the cases against Nahid Hasan were all filed by the current BJP regime).

Nahid Hasan will face BJP’s Mriganka Singh, who lost previous elections to him, but she gets the BJP ticket because father Hukum Singh was the only individual who could overcome the Hasan family’s apparent political dominance in the seat. . Both families belonged originally to the same Khap about a century ago. Another interesting nugget is that when Tabassum Hasan won the by-election in 2018 as an RLD candidate, she was briefly the only Muslim UP MP. In the current elections, Kairana is considered a safe seat for the SP-RLD. It’s a seat that has many stories to tell, some of hate but also ones that invoke harmony in melody.

(Saba Naqvi is a journalist and author)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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