In the ongoing turf war between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party for Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday accused SP leader Mulayam Singh of misleading the community on the quota issue.

As Mr. Gandhi launched a direct attack on the former Chief Minister — and even questioned his intentions of giving reservation to Muslims — and with the issue fast turning into a game of political football, it is abundantly clear that the Congress is determined to keep the minority community away from the SP.

Addressing a public meeting at Mau, a Muslim stronghold in eastern U.P. known for its weaver community and coterminous with another Muslim-dominated district, Azamgarh, Mr. Gandhi said Mr. Mulayam Singh, though Chief Minister thrice, did not provide reservation to Muslims, unlike as in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Mr. Gandhi said nobody stopped the SP president from including an 18 per cent quota for Muslims, he promised in the party manifesto.

Mr. Gandhi said the present Chief Minister, Mayawati, also failed to give quota benefits to Muslims but both she and her predecessor were quick to oppose the announcement by the Congress (UPA government) of 4.5 per cent reservation for Muslims.

“While Ms. Mayawati sent letters to the Prime Minister, Mr. Mulayam Singh said if the SP came to power 18 per cent reservation would be given to the minority community,” the Congress general secretary said.

Even as he took pot-shots at the SP president on the reservation issue, Mr. Gandhi reminded the people of Mr. Mulayam Singh's alliance with Kalyan Singh, who was the BJP Chief Minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished.

SP hits back

However, the SP's ‘Muslim face,' Mohammad Azam Khan, was quick to respond to Mr. Gandhi's accusations. In Rampur, he asked why Muslims were being remembered by the Congress only during elections. At an SP's rally in Barabanki on Sunday last, the Rampur MLA accused the Congress of backstabbing them.

Mr. Khan alleged that Mr. Gandhi and the Congress had deceived the minority community on the 4.5 per cent reservation issue. But, he said, the SP general secretary had promised Muslims that if the party was voted to power, they would be given reservation on the pattern adopted in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, but after consulting legal experts so that the decision was not challenged in the Supreme Court.

The reservation pot is likely to be kept boiling as Uttar Pradesh heads for the first phase of the elections on February 8. State SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is scheduled to address meetings, along with Maharashtra unit leader Abu Aasim Azmi, on Thursday in Bahraich and Shravasti, which have a fair sprinkling of Muslim voters.