In Kakda village there is only one Muslim family left. The rest have fled. The communal violence of September last didn't spill over to this village but three of its men, all Jats, were killed around 10 kms away.
"Nothing happened here but the Muslims left just out of fear," says Satbir Chaudhury Singh, a Jat farmer.
From his house he has seen Congress and BSP leaders pass by on the way to Muslim refugee camps without stopping at the village. BJP leaders had visited Kakda, a Jat-dominated village.
Six months after the riots life may seem to be returning to normal in Muzaffarnagar but there is an underlying unease, symbolising a deep sense of polarisation, dividing voters on communal rather than traditional caste lines. Those having ear to the ground say BJP was set to hold sway in the 25 seats in this region because of an uncanny alliance of Jats and Dalits, who are angry at the secular parties "appeasing" or attending to only Muslim riot victims.
Less than 25 kilometres away is the Jola Bijlighar camp where around 250 Muslim families from Hasanpur refuse to return to their village and have filled new forms to get their voting cards. They claim that Congress or BSP did not visit their camp and only the SP leaders did. A large section of Jats, outraged particularly with the Samajwadi Party are tilting towards BJP which has put up Sanjeev Ballian, a Jat. The communal violence has also brought the Jats and Dalits — two communities which never voted together — close, indicating a breach in the support base of Mayawati's BSP which has fielded a Muslim, Kadir Rana, who is also the sitting MP.
"It has now become Hindu vote," says Jitendra Tevatia, an expert in Jat politics. Muslims comprise over 20% of the electorate in over two dozen seats in the region in Bareilly, Badaun, Pilibhit, Rampur, Sambhal, Amroha, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Bijnor and Moradabad. Since Western UP is going to polls on April 10, a cascading effect on this region voting for the BJP would affect other regions including Varanasi which are going to polls a month later on May 12, feel experts.
The SP is counting on the Muslim votes which account for around a third of the electorate in the constituency. The BSP is hoping to retain its Dalit vote which forms a large chunk among the Hindus, besides getting a slice of the Muslim share and the Congress is banking on the UPA's Jat reservation to woo the politically influential community.
At a meeting of the Jat samaj in Muzaffarnagar on Tuesday, there was a feeling that the community should back Congress which also has an alliance with Ajit Singh's RLD. However, with the Muslim votes divided, the memories of violence still fresh and Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, the BJP is hoping to gain in the arithmetic of polarisation. But, even BJP workers here admit that if the Muslims do tactical voting for a single party it could hurt the saffron party.
The Muslims in the camps pledge their allegiance to the ruling SP despite the BSP candidate, being the only Muslim, apart from AAP's Mohammad Yamin in fray. While between the Shahpur Kasba and Budhana Vidhan Sabha, the area most affected in the riots, the Muslims will support SP, in other areas the community could back BSP. The SP candidate is Virendra Singh, a Gujjar, and the Congress has put up Pankaj Aggarwal, a Vaish.
So deep rooted is the sceptism between Muslims and Hindus, who had lived in the same lanes once before September that even the woes of sugarcane farmers, who were angry with the Akhilesh Simgh government, have gone into the background. "We will live on the footpath but not go back," says Raisu, an inhabitant of the Jola camp.
However, according to the BJP candidate Baliyan officially there are no more camps and those living there are doing so of their own will.
Saeed-u-Zaman, who has been active in rehabilitating displaced families in Khampur, 20 kms from Muzaffarnagar, says there are 13 camps where there 150-600 families. He has helped in getting small brick houses built for around 150 families.
What began allegedly with a Qureshi Muslim boy molesting a Jat girl ended up in a fight between Muley Jats and Hindu Jats. The Hindus and Muslims accused each other of targeting lower castes during the riots.
The elections will be over in a few days but it may take some time before the demarcations, literal and otherwise, fade out and things return to the way it was before September.