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Muslim disenchantment with SP comes to surface after defeat in 2022 U.P. election 

Samajwadi Party National President Akhilesh Yadav. File

Samajwadi Party National President Akhilesh Yadav. File | Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

The recent politics over jailed senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan and the expression of discontent by his supporters as well as other Muslim leaders in Uttar Pradesh have brought to fore the simmering frustration within the minority community with the non-BJP parties, in particular the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP.

In the 2022 Assembly election, Muslims, who constitute 19.5% of the population in the State, mobilised overwhelmingly in favour of the SP, playing their part in helping the alliance put up a decent fight.

However, the BJP’s successive win coupled with the long-drawn strategic silence on their issues by the non-BJP parties has led to a fresh churn within the community as it speculates about its political options as well as future.

Saif Babar, a poet in Lucknow, says he voted for the SP in 2022 despite his reservations with it as the SP was the only party which appeared to challenge the BJP.

“Call it their fear or wisdom, without any direct calls by any leader or community cleric, Muslims voted for SP like never before. Even a person like me (critical of the SP) went and voted for it,” Mr. Babar says.

Common Muslims have for a long time felt that non-BJP parties have ignored their interests, he says.

“Muslims don’t vote on the basis of merit of a party. They have been reduced to choosing the one in the best position to defeat the BJP,” he adds.

Shani Khan, an aide of Mr. Azam Khan who has been in jail for 26 months, is disenchanted with the SP and its ruling family. Despite being an MP, SP patron Mulayam Singh did not raise the ordeal of his long-time colleague in Parliament, Mr. Shani says.

“He can go to stare at lions on a safari in Etawah but cannot travel 70 km to Sitapur jail to meet Azam Khan even once,” he asks.

Mr. Khan recently refused to meet a delegation sent by the SP in jail even as he allowed Shivpal Yadav, the disgruntled uncle of Mr. Akhilesh, to meet him.

Mr. Shani also feels that the current SP under Akhilesh Yadav does not have the capacity to take along all groups unlike his father who during his prime was able to take along rival leaders.

Even during the 2022 election, there were several instances where Muslim leaders were either ignored or publicly insulted by the SP alliance, but Muslims either remained silent or were shut out with the argument that their vocal opposition would help the BJP polarise Hindus, says Mr. Shani, who is based in Rampur.

“Muslims have become political untouchables. Everyone wants their votes but nobody wants to even take their name,” he says.

Abdul Hafiz Gandhi, a law teacher and SP spokesperson from Kasganj, feels that a sense of frustration and dejection has taken over Muslims. They feel attempts are on to make them second class citizens and they believe that those sitting in institutions where they go to seek justice cannot be impartial to them, he says.

“They have become irrelevant from politics,” Mr. Gandhi says, adding that the Muslim community has been pushed to perceive that they are constantly under the attack of the government.

Even in the recent drive by the Yogi Adityanath government in which unauthorised loudspeakers were removed from religious places, although on the face of it, it was for all faiths, Muslims believe it was done to target their religious places, Mr. Gandhi says.

Mr. Gandhi admits that the community is also unhappy with the SP for not speaking up on cases of atrocities against it. A petrol pump owned by a former MLA, Shahzil Islam, who contested from Bareilly on SP symbol in 2022, was recently demolished by the administration claiming it was illegally constructed. The party did not speak on it, Mr. Gandhi says.

The outbursts, resignations and criticism have swung Mr. Akhilesh into action as he has in the recent days, donning the red cap, attended iftar parties in Lucknow hosted by Muslims.

But Saleem Baig, an RTI activist from Moradabad, says this is the extent of effort non-BJP parties want to make for Muslims while remaining silent on their real socio-economic issues.

“Beyond their topi and handkerchief, Muslims don’t count much in any political party,” Mr. Baig says, taking a dig at the political symbolism associated with the attire associated with the community.

Mr. Baig says that the SP has short-changed Muslims. In 2012, the party came to power with a majority and made 14 big promises to Muslims. However, it did not fulfil its promises, he says..

“These so-called secular parties only want Muslim votes and want to use their seats to promote their own community and kin. The education and issues of Muslims don’t matter to them,” he adds..

So what could be the way forward for Muslim politics? Would this present disenchantment lead to new alternatives or would it fizzle out with time?

Senior lawyer of the Allahabad High Court S. Farman Naqvi says there the community would have to create new alternatives but was not sure if it had the political initiative to do so.

“You cannot expect that a political party will look at only your interest and not it own survival. We have put all our eggs in one basket,” he says.

Mr. Gandhi says that as the community feels pushed to the wall, it doesn’t have many options left but to speak up for itself.

“When nobody is speaking ,why not bring out your own option or platform when we are bound to lose either way,” he said, hinting that the stage was set for a party such as the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which spoke vocally on Muslim issues.

Mr. Babar says Muslims should not expect any representation under the BJP government but must ensure that the parties they voted for understand their value.

“We have no complaint against the BJP. We rejected it. But we have a grouse with parties whom we voted for in large numbers but they still treat us like C-grade people in their party,” he says.

Mr. Shani says the Muslim question in Uttar Pradesh is no longer about education or development. “Now we are at a stage where it is about staying alive. What we wear, eat, how we walk on the road, how we pray and how the azan would be heard, everything is being decided  by the government,” he says.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 11:13:08 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/muslim-disenchantment-with-sp-comes-to-surface-after-defeat-in-2022-up-election/article65372699.ece