In Sambhal, with a large Muslim presence, Kalki skews arithmetic | India News

Sambhal, a tranquil town in Moradabad about 180km from Delhi, shot into the limelight on Feb 19 when PM Modi laid the foundation stone of a Kalki temple here.
Kalki is believed to be a yet-to-beborn avatar of Vishnu who will complete the deity’s dashavatar (10 incarnations), and Sambhal is believed to be where Kalki will appear. Thus, a temple dedicated to the deity, constructed by expelled Congress functionary Acharya Pramod Krishnam, who has now aligned with BJP, is generating significant interest in religious and political circles.
Sambhal has traditionally been a Samajwadi Party (SP) bastion — its veteran, Shafiq Ur-Rehman Barq (who died at 93 a few months ago), had won the seat more than once. SP has now fielded his grandson, Zia Ur-Rehman Barq, the incumbent Kundarki MLA, from this constituency.
With a large Muslim population — comprising almost 35% of the electorate — the seat had been a difficult place for BJP in 2019, as it lost all six seats in the Moradabad division, which encompasses Sambhal. But now, with the Kalki card up its sleeve, the party is hoping for a favourable turn of events.
Krishnam, the peethadheeshwar (temple head) of Shri Kalki Dham, told TOI, “After Kashi, Ayodhya and Mathura, Kalki Peeth will be developed into a major religious centre, particularly after the PM himself laid its foundation. The move will impact the political landscape of western UP. Until now, the Hindu vote was divided into various splinter groups affiliated with regional parties. Now, it will bring all of them together.”
Interestingly, Krishnam, who contested the 2014 polls from Sambhal on a Congress ticket and lost, is hoping to retain the liberal Muslims who attended various events at Kalki Dham in the past. “During the foundation ceremony, half of the attendees were not part of the BJP fold, and that included some Muslims too,” he said. “Barq had thrown a spanner into the temple proposal in 2016, but in Aug 2023, Allahabad high court gave a decision in our favour,” he claimed.
Parmeshwar Lal Saini is BJP’s choice for the seat. He had lost to Barq Sr five years ago. Sambhal has always been an opposition stronghold, except for 2014, when BJP’s Satyapal Singh Saini emerged victorious, securing 34% of the votes to win a tight triangular contest against SP and BSP. In 2019, the SP-BSP alliance defeated Parmeshwar, with the latter still managing 41% of votes.
Saini told TOI, “This time, we are confident that the lotus will bloom in Sambhal. The Kalki temple foundation by the PM will seal our victory. I have the support of voters, irrespective of gender, caste, or faith.”
Saulat Ali, a former MLA who won from Moradabad in 1996, has since contested six elections without success. Recently, he parted ways with Congress to join BSP, and is contesting from Sambhal. Ali said, “I played a pivotal role in Zia Ur-Rehman Barq’s victory as Kundarki MLA as an SP candidate in 2022. As far as I see, SP has no significant presence in Samb hal, and the contest is two-pronged between BJP and BSP.”
Ali holds considerable influence in the region considering his political experience. His father, Riyasat Hussain, was also a four-time MLA. His ability to sway supporters of Iqbal Mehmood, Barq’s rival, could impact the election outcome, especially considering Barq’s strained relations with Qureshi voters.
Political experts agree on a possible Kalki effect. “BJP has skilfully used religion to blunt the impact of caste politics in the area. The Kalki event will consolidate Hindu votes for the party irrespective of the caste of the candidate they put up,” said Sanjeev Kumar Sharma, head of political science department at Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut.
Amroha-based analyst Shoib Chaudhary said, “Voters in Sambhal and surrounding districts have primarily been anti-BJP due to the large Muslim presence. These areas have remained SP strongholds for the last three decades, barring a few incidental wins for BJP on the back of an unconsolidated opposition. BJP had been eyeing these regions for long, and the development of a temple in Kalki Dham can work wonders for them.”

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