Muslims could find common cause with Jats earlier, but the Muzaffarnagar riots put an end to the unity
The Muzaffarnagar riots have left deep scars in this western Uttar Pradesh sugarcane belt, breaking apart the affable Jat-Muslim relations. As feared, new political equations are taking shape on religious lines, eroding, for instance, the traditional Jat-Muslim vote base of the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
Traditionally, Muslims here have supported the farmer leader and before him, his father, former Prime Minister Charan Singh. Being farmers themselves, Muslims could find common cause with Jats. But the clashes that broke out between the two communities six months ago put an end to the unity. In the meantime, the BJP has managed to make inroads into the divided Jat community, while Muslims have vowed to back only the party that can halt the Narendra Modi juggernaut.
“Riots have taken place under various regimes, including the Congress but party leaders have assuaged the feelings [puchkara hai] of both communities. In Modi’s case, he only said he was ashamed [sharminda] [for the 2002 Gujarat riots],” says a lawyer from the Muslim community.
An interaction with several farmers revealed that the Jat community is split on backing the RLD. But, post-riots, apprehending a Hindu-Muslim polarisation, Mr. Ajit Singh has astutely fielded Rakesh Tikait, Bhartiya Kisan Union’s fiery farm leader and a Jat, as party candidate to prevent the community from gravitating towards the BJP.
The BJP initially tried to woo Mr. Tikait, 44. But after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s pre-election “gift” of Jat reservation under the Other Backward Classes category in jobs and educational institutions, he jumped onto the RLD-Congress bandwagon.
But now it appears that while Jat reservation will make a majority of the community stay with the RLD-Congress combine, the youth are ready to break ranks to seek the jobs Mr. Modi promises.
Disenchanted with the Congress, Muslims are looking for a non-BJP party that can secure their interests. “For 60 years, we have voted for the Congress but have remained where we were,” says Junaid Ahmed, a lawyer at Athsaini in the Garhmukteshwar Assembly segment.
The confusion within the Muslim community has helped the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) come into reckoning despite its poor handling of the riots. On the other hand, the emerging Dalit-Muslim combination has boosted the chances of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Speaking to The Hindu, several Muslims say that faced with a Hobson’s choice and the fact that the SP is in power in the State, they are willing to repose their faith in its leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav. The party’s choice of a Muslim candidate, Humera Akhtar, wife of Kamal Akhtar, Minister of State in the Akhilesh Yadav government, has softened many hearts. Kari Sadakat Hussain, Principal of Masjid Darusalam and Madrasa Jamia Islamia in Saroorpur village, says: “Except for dange [riots], we have no shikayat [complaint] with the SP.”
At a farmers’ meeting at Para Khalsa in the Dhanura segment, Mr. Tikait makes a call for abjuring politics based on caste and religion. He then highlights the plight of sugarcane growers who have not been paid their dues since 2013, pushing them into debt and deprivation.
The leader, son of the famed Mahendra Singh Tikait, breaks down recalling his days of penury. “The farmer has remained where he was. All policies are for industry. I intend to be your voice in Parliament,” he says. Everybody around nods in approval.
Locked in a fierce four-cornered contest, Mr. Tikait is grappling with the unprecedented money power unleashed by BJP candidate Kanwar Singh Tanwar, a Gujjar real estate magnate from Delhi. BSP candidate Haji Shabban is a former MLA from the Hasanpur segment. Expelled RLD MP Devendra Nagpal has turned a rebel and has thrown his lot behind the SP candidate, making the battle even more intense.
Muslims, Mr. Junaid Ahmed says, will close ranks on the penultimate day of election so that a division in vote does not help the BJP.