Just after Friday namaz in a small lane near Nai Sarak here, a trickle of Muslim men come out of the local mosque and freely talk about politics.
Almost all of them back the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance. Akhilesh Yadav, they say, has done good work; the alliance is an added advantage for him; and unlike Mayawati, “who works just for her own caste”, the Chief Minister takes everyone along.
But the situation changes dramatically in Sultanpur town, about 150 kilometres north-west of Varanasi. Here, people in a crowded dhaba in the heart of a Muslim locality remain split between the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party, with the latter clearly finding more favour with them. Here, the BSP has fielded a Muslim candidate, Mujeeb Ahmed, while the SP candidate is Anup Sanda.
“Mayawati is much better than the SP in maintaining law and order, which is the need of the hour,” Asif Khan says. A local BJP worker says Muslims here are backing Mayawati since she has fielded a Muslim.
The arguments here reverse dramatically. The SP regime is accused of failing to prevent the Muzaffarnagar riots and not reaching out to the displaced people. People ask why the party brands Mukhtar Ansari as a criminal, while Raja Bhaiya retains his ministerial position.
In Varanasi, however, the SP-Congress alliance is the unanimous favourite of Muslims across localities.
“The Akhilesh Yadav government has been good for weavers. They have got cheap power under this government,” Mohammad Aslam of Madanpura says.
He says the fact that the SP and the Congress are together is a great attraction as “the rise of the Congress is good for the country”.
The pattern repeats in more places. While there are seats were one sees emphatic support for the SP-Congress alliance, Mayawati seems to have popular support in seats where her party has given ticket to Muslim candidates.
In Faizabad, where the BSP has fielded Bazmi Siddiqui against Tej Nayaran Pandey of the SP, Muslims seem to lean towards the BSP, citing better handling of law and order by Mayawati when she was Chief Minister.
Clearly, the alliance between the SP and the Congress has opened up the Uttar Pradesh election as Muslims, at least in the eastern part of the State, are not voting en masse either for the SP or the BSP.
Given that Muslims constitute 19% of the population, they may end up being this election’s kingmakers.