This west UP town, less than 100km from Delhi, grabbed headlines last year over claims of a Hindu exodus because of alleged minority community excesses.Today , this isn’t an issue.The talk here, as in other UP constituencies, is more about crime, civic facilities, jobs, bijli-sadak-pani.

Hukum Singh, BJP MP , from Kairana, raised the flag on the alleged exodus before he backed down to say that families leaving Kairana had nothing do with communal tension. Economic factors had triggered the so-called flight of families.

Today , Singh’s daughter Mriganka’s last-minute jump into the poll fray is the talk of the town. Her getting a ticket has riled many in the BJP , including Singh’s nephew Anil Chauhan, who defected to RLD with his supporters. Chauhan is contesting against Mriganka.The family feud is likely to give an edge to MLA and SPCongress nominee Nahid Hasan.

A single-storey brick house of Jaipal, 65, in Mohalla Bisatian has a notice stuck on its wall. `House for sale’, it says. Last year, dozens of such houses here hit the headlines after Hukum Singh alleged an exodus of over 250 Hindu families. Days after releasing a list of such families, Singh backtracked. He wasn’t heard, perhaps. Why else would the alleged exodus feature in the party manifesto.“To stop exodus due to communal tension, a department would be created and in each district, especially West UP , a deputy collector appoint ed,“ it says, without naming Kairana.

Truth is the dreaded gangs of Kairana, which locals insist should have been the district headquarters and not Shamli, make no distinction between communities.

One name that still strikes terror in the district and neighbouring Haryana, is Mukeem Kala. In 2010 Kala started an extortion racket that terrorised people and grabbed property . At the height of Kala’s `career’, his gang had 50 members, some among them Hindus.

Kala was jailed in 2014. Shamli’s then SP Vijay Bhushan told TOI: “Kala was notori ous. In three years he had over 30 cases of dacoity, murder and extortion. The Shamli po lice neutralised his gang.“ That’s something many don’t believe. “I keep hearing of extortion letters,“ said Asaf Ali, 55, uncle of physician Mohammad Dan ish, who received one such last September. “The crimi nals demanded Rs 10 lakh,“ Ali said.

Kairana circle officer Bhushan Verma believes all’s well. “There’s no increase in crime. In six months, we’ve nabbed many criminals. Since we got the Dial 100 helpline, we’re doing better.“ Statistics belie his claims. Police records mention 11 murders, 11 kidnappings, 24 robberies, 25 extortions, 44 attempt-to-murder cases and six of police being attacked in Kairana last year.

JK Shahi, DIG, Saharanpur range, says: “ After the issue came up, we submitted a report to the government.The high court sought a report, which we will submit.We met many families and found different reasons for them leaving, mostly economic. Some left for a job, some for better education.Some in the list were dead, others we still in Kairana.“

“The area, because of its proximity to Uttarakhand and Haryana, had become the Kala gang base. Most of his victims were of his own community . Crime cases shouldn’t be given communal colour,“ Shahi added. “Communities live peacefully , but for elections, when we tend to become communal or at least are projected that way ,“ says Jairam Saini, a trader.

On Kairana’s outskirts, Fayyaz Ali, 75, sits in front of his shack, one of over 250 in a resettlement colony of those displaced by the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.He wants parties to talk of another exodus. “We’re just one colony of over a thousand people. There was a much bigger exodus of Muslims in 2013.Why doesn’t any party talk about it?“ Ali’s home at Nagla Pithora in Muzaffarnagar was burnt down.