M-Y is no longer Muslim-Yadav in Azamgarh

Angry and aggrieved by the Muzzafarnagar riots, Muslims in Eastern Uttar Pradesh are in no mood to forget the clashes or forgive the Samajwadi Party-led government for having failed to protect them.

Resentment has given the community in Poorvanchal a reason to shift its loyalties.

Even as all parties, including the BJP have been claiming the support of the community in large numbers, Muslims are not averse to siding with hardliners, like the Rashtriya Ulema Council (RUC), whose electioneering revolves round the community and its concerns. The Bahujan Samaj Party too has emerged as a beneficiary of this shift in preference.

In Azamgarh, which the SP counts as a stronghold and which has 3.7 lakh Muslim voters, equations have changed with the RUC entering the fray. The M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) definition has been altered as a sizable chunk of Muslim voters is supporting the RUC’s Maulana Amir Rashadi Madani. “We see no difference between the BJP and the SP; what was the BJP’s 2002 [Godhra riots] is the SP’s 2013 [Muzaffarnagar riots]. M-Y is now just ‘Mulayam-Yadav’,” says a resident, eliciting nods of agreement from a group sitting alongside him. SP chief Mulayam Singh will have to fight hard to win the Muslim vote, competing against Maulana Madani and the BSP’s Shah Alam Jamali.

The RUC emerged as a protest group in October 2008 after two youths from Azamgarh were killed in the Batla House encounter in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar.

“If the SP was serious about taking on Narendra Modi, then Mulayam Singh should have accepted our support and contested from Varanasi. In the last two years, the SP has broken the BJP’s record of fostering riots. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has admitted that there were 127 communal riots but our records show the number is 150,” said Talah Amir, Maulana Madani’s son. The SP’s exhortation that Mulayam Singh is fighting a vikaas kee ladaai [fight of development] and its portrayal of him as as zaalim ke saamney aalim [brute vs. scholar]” find no takers in the carpet belt of Bhadoi and Mirzapur.

The BSP has emerged as a clear gainer in these areas as the Muslims have turned their backs on the SP. “Muslims in Bhadoi [numbering 1.5 lakh] do not vote en bloc; some vote for the Congress, while others choose between the BSP and the SP; but after Muzaffarnagar and the neglect of the community, there is a distinct shift towards the BSP,” said Subhash Chandra Maurya, a BJP functionary. Yadavs too are unhappy with the SP; communal clashes, especially at the time of religious festivities, have alienated the community.

“The Yadav vote will be divided between the BJP and the JD(U),” he said. In Varanasi too, Muslims are not revealing their cards just yet. The BJP’s assertions that the members of the community have warmed to the “development man” Mr. Modi notwithstanding, there is a clear divide in the community’s preference — those at the lower end of socio-economic spectrum support the Congress and for some, the Aam Aadmi Party has emerged as an alternative.

Here too, the SP seems to have lost out on the community’s support and goodwill. And as for the BJP, despite its overtures and change in stance, the party is not acceptable to Muslims barring the Shia sect.

“Muslims in Varanasi are yet to make up their mind; traditionally, they vote for the party that is most likely to defeat the BJP. This time round, they are angry with the SP; the Qaumi Ekta Dal (QED) is out of the picture and not many believe in the AAP. The Congress is likely to get a sizeable share of Muslim votes but eventually the bulk of the votes will go to the party that is seen as the strongest contender against Mr. Modi,” said Professor K.K. Mishra, Head of the Political Science Department of Banaras Hindu University.

It would be an exaggeration to contend that the BJP will be accepted by educated and liberal Muslims, say prominent members of the community. “Just as there is a Line of Control along the country’s borders, there is one between the community and the party. Maybe, if some other leader had been pitched for Prime Minister, things would have been different, because most Muslims are wary of Mr. Modi,” said a community member with large business interests. Political watchers say the QED, which has withdrawn from the election in Varanasi but wields considerable clout within the community, will sway voters.