Uttar Pradesh 2017

Muslims in a dilemma as U.P. votes in Phase I

AIMIM workers campaigning for their candidate in Firozabad.  

“Mulayam Singh said all those living in riot camps in Muzaffarnagar are conspirators. He is your political enemy...” the music system at Nadar Baksh market blares out a recorded speech of AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi.

The dense Muslim locality, in the heart of Firozabad’s famous glass bangle bazaar, is gripped by the day’s affair — Athesham Ali Babar, the AIMIM candidate is campaigning.

After some fiery speeches and sloganeering, the public meeting concludes; young Muslim boys rush from the mohalla to grab whatever they can take home — the most sought after items were green and white kites, the AIMIM symbol.

Meanwhile, the enthusiastic supporters carry Babar on their shoulders away from the pandal, shouting slogans. Firozabad votes on Saturday.

Uttar Pradesh will see the first phase of Assembly elections for 73 seats in 15 districts on Saturday. Most of the constituencies going to the polls fall in the communally sensitive Western U.P. including the riot-hit areas of Muzaffarnagar-Shamli.

Bahut dekh liya SP aur BSP; iss baar apne bhai ko vote denge (Enough of SP and BSP; this time I will vote for our brother),” quips young Osama, as he heads back to his bangle shop after attending the AIMIM rally.

“Only the AIMIM can stop the BJP here, as Muslims are with it. Owaisi sahib speaks for us, others only want our votes.”

Some distance away, Batti Bhai, a pakoda seller, whose family has interests in the meat industry, is sharper in his criticism. “Look at how many riots took place...The SP only works for the Yadavs. Most of the station officers are Yadavs. They extort money from Muslims who transport buffaloes, as if it were illegal...Mayawati does not talk to us,” he reasons.

Less than 30 metres away from the spot, at Aqeel Ahmed’s bangle shop, the AIMIM is dismissed as a no-entity. In great contrast, Ahmed supports the SP-Congress alliance. “Akhilesh Yadav’s work speaks...look at the Expressway. This is not Muzaffarnagar, there is no communal tension here,” says Ahmed. His mother is also enamoured by the young CM for the widow pension scheme of the SP.

Ahmed, however, grudgingly admits that “15 per cent of Muslims” will vote for AIMIM.

If you think Muslims here were split between the SP and the AIMIM, drive down two km to Ramgad Jatavpuri. Muslims here say they will vote for the BSP. “Khalid [Naseer] sahib [the BSP candidate] is a good man. He will win, he has the Dalit vote to support his personal image,” says Mohammad Sharif, 64, who sells tin boxes.

Samshul, 32, who sells readymade clothes, in neighbouring Hajipura, close to a Dalit locality, says the SP neglects Muslim areas. “Under the BSP, roads are made in our areas. SP only betrays us,” he says.

Sharif is also enthused to vote for the BSP candidate as he belongs to his caste , the Sheikh. The SP’s Azim Ali is a Pathan.

Though there are over a lakh Muslims on this seat, they appear split in opinion.

The community fears that like the last elections, this internal division could benefit the BJP. In 2012, the BJP’s Manish Asiza defeated the SP’s Azim Ali by just 2,000 votes, while the BSP’s Khalid Naseer got a respectable 51,790. The Congress got only 2,933 votes. Interestingly, this year too, Asiza, Naseer and Ali are set for a re-run. With the AIMIM in the fray, the dilemma for Muslims has got worse.

Agra South is also set for a similar re-run. In 2012, the BJP’s Yogendra Upadhayay won the seat comfortably. The BSP’s Zulfiqakar Ali Bhutto stood second with 51,208, the Congress’s Nazir Ahmed got 39, 812, while SP’s Muslim candidate got a mere 13,369. Nazir, Bhutto, Upadhyay are set to fight it out again, to the confusion, who number over 90,000 on the seat.

In Agra’s Mantolla locality, famous for its shoe industry, the heritage Agra Fort, and in news last year after the VHP raked up the murder one of its Dalit workers, Muslims are tilted towards the SP-Congress alliance. What’s interesting is that despite being a locality dominated by Qureshis and Dalits, there is little support for the BSP candidate, a former MLA, also a Qureshi — traditional butcher community.

The locals vouch for the Congress’s Nazeer Ahmed, who is the richest candidate in the first phase of polling with declared assets of ₹211 crores. Nazeer is a top shoe exporter, while Bhutto is in the meat industry.

“Nazeer is a sober person, secular and acceptable to all communities, whereas Bhutto courted controversy last year after he was accused of selling animal fat as ghee. The Hindus will not vote him. He does not even have the support of the non-Qureshi Muslims,” says Mubarak Qureshi, a former corporator.

The Muslims here argue that the impact of demonetisation would pull upper caste traders towards Nazeer.

The Muslims here are suspicious of Mayawati — she may ally with the BJP, they fear — and critical that she does not promote Muslims once in power, and accuse her of demanding the highest amount of money for ticket from Muslims. “All the posts, district and city heads go to her caste, the Jatavs, not Muslims. Also, the clashes between Jatavs, who get emboldened, and Muslims increase. BSP MLAs cannot put our grievances to her, she is a dictator,” says Nawab Sayid Arif, 36, a shoe trader.

A common anecdote they narrate to express their adulation for the SP and the Congress: In Mayawati’s recent rally, the BSP candidate was not featured prominently on stage, while the Congress’s man was seen riding together with Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav during their road show.

While they are impressed by Akhilesh Yadav’s development work — sufficient power supply for the shoe industry (some respondents claim power supply has increased from eight hours to at least 18 hours) Luckknow-Agra Expressway and the upcoming Metro — the alliance has cemented their choice. They dismiss the Muzaffarnagar riots as a conspiracy by the BJP. “It could have happened under any government,” says Mubarak.

At Nalban chauraha, known for its delicious Mughlai food, the sentiment is different — the BSP is supported here. Imran Qureshi vehemently argues that the best bet for Muslims to win the seat is the BSP. “The BSP has always been placed first or second here. This time, too, it is the main challenger. There is no real impact of demonetisation, so the SP-Congress alliance, which has no core voters here, will not gain any new support. Without Dalit support, a Muslim cannot win here,” says Imran. Bhutto was MLA twice with the past.

The Muslims supporting the BSP cite her better law and order management, the arithmetic potency of the Dalit-Muslim combine, and the fewer number of Yadavs. Many also distributed emotional appeals to the Qureshi community to vote for the BSP.

The confusion of the Muslims is there to be seen on many other seats in west U.P. — either through a direct clash of Muslim candidates or a split in their votes. In 2012, there were many seats where the clash among Muslim candidates ensured their losses, in most cases leading to the victory of the BJP. This factor was seen in a dozen seats in west U.P., including Saharanpur City, Gangoh, Dholana, Kairana, Meerut, Behat, Nakud, Asm oli, Saharanpur Dehat, Meerut South and Thana Bhawan. While many among these have a single Muslim candidate this time, many others stare at a repeat of 2012.

In fact, in Meerut South, Kithore (held by SP labour minister Shahid Manzoor), and Thana Bhawan, which was won by the BJP’s Suresh Rana, a riot accused, last time, there are more than one Muslim candidates. So do Deoband, Charthawal and Meerapur in Muzaffarnagar, Siwalkhas, Sardhana, Loni, Bulandshar, Syana and Najibabad. Rana had defeated the RLD’s Ashraf Ali Khan by 265 votes, while the third spot had gone to Abdul Waris Khan of BSP who was behind by little more than 3,000. This time the RLD has fielded Javed Rao, again a Muslim, while the BSP and BJP candidates are the same. As 73 seats in western U.P. goes to the polls, the BJP hopes to benefit from this split — the party has not fielded a single Muslim.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 8:56:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-2017/Muslims-in-a-dilemma-as-U.P.-votes-in-Phase-I/article17285714.ece

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