In Nithari, SP Campaigns For BSP Near Mosque That Fights For Space
As people gather for the Jummah Namaaz at the Madina Masjid in Nithari in Gautam Buddh Nagar, Samajwadi Party functionaries Hira Lal Yadav, Devendra Gujjar and their supporters stand patiently outside the mosque, sharing space with alms-seekers, waiting for the prayers to get over.
They are armed with with multicolored pamphlets – representing the three Mahagathbandhan parties Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal – listing the achievements of the previous Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party governments in Uttar Pradesh. But the real message is what Yadav and Gujjar tell people while giving the pamphlet: "Iss baar Bhajpa ko harana hai" (We have to defeat BJP this time).
'Good Co-ordination Between SP & BSP'
Despite being Samajwadi Party workers – Gujjar happens to be the party's district president – they are campaigning for a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate, Satveer Nagar. He is up against Union Culture Minister Dr Mahesh Sharma. Gautam Buddh Nagar is one of the 38 seats that has been allotted to the BSP in the Mahagathbandhan's seat-sharing arrangement.
On being asked if they feel reluctant campaigning for a party that till recently was a bitter adversary of the SP in UP, Yadav said, "Not at all. We are here campaigning aren't we. All three parties – SP, BSP and RLD – understand that they need to come together to achieve the larger mission of defeating BJP and saving democracy".
Both Gujjar and Yadav say that they have gone campaigning with BSP workers as well and the work distribution has been smooth. They point out that the campaign material has been designed in such a way that it gives equal importance to both the SP and BSP and also the RLD in the areas of its influence.
"The response from our supporters has been extremely positive. They understand that this alliance is important and that they need to vote for BSP in seats like Gautam Buddh Nagar in order to defeat the BJP," Gujjar said.
BSP has been traditionally stronger than SP in Gautam Buddh Nagar as a whole. So when the alliance was finalised, it wasn't surprising to any of the SP workers in the district that the seat was allotted to the BSP.
"BSP is integral to the identity of Gautam Buddh Nagar. A lot of work was done here during Mayawati's tenure," said Yadav. The district even got its name because of Mayawati, who renamed Noida as Gautam Buddh Nagar.
But for Nithari's Muslims, SP has consistently been the first choice.
"We voted for SP in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections. We have no problem voting for BSP this time. We are glad that they (SP, BSP and RLD) came together, " said Mohammad Mustaqim, who had come to the Madina Masjid for Friday prayers.
Another person, Shamshad Ali, said that he trusted SP more than BSP when it comes to countering the BJP.
"Mayawati has allied with BJP in the past, SP hasn't done that ever. We trust SP more. But this time Mayawati has realised that if she doesn't ally with SP, BJP will finish her party off," Shamshad Ali said, standing outside the mosque.
A Mosque’s Struggle for Space
The mosque itself has acutely felt the effects of the political changes in Uttar Pradesh. The prohibition on offering namaaz in certain public places in Gautam Buddh Nagar has led to a large increase in the number of people attending Friday prayers at the Madina Masjid, as it happens to be the only proper mosque across several kilometers in the area. Despite having three storeys, the building is unable to accommodate all the people who come for Jummah prayers and many have to offer their prayers on the road outside the mosque.
But the authorities object to people praying on the road – as it also falls under the definition of public place – so people have to quickly wind up their prayer mats as soon as the namaaz gets over.
Many people said that they aren't able to offer the additional prayers that are supposed to be completed after the congregation, as the road has to be cleared as soon as possible.
"We didn't have these problems when Akhilesh (Yadav) was the chief minister," Shamshad Ali said.
The SP functionaries admit that convincing Muslims to vote for BSP is relatively easy compared to other communities.
In Gautam Budhh Nagar, the Mahagathbandhan's calculations are based on Muslim, Dalit and Yadav voters who together form about 35 percent of the electorate in the seat. With BJP's Mahesh Sharma likely to secure the lion's share of the votes of Brahmins, Thakurs and other Upper Castes – who account for around 30 percent of the electorate – Gujjar voters are tipped to play a decisive role.
BSP has fielded a Gujjar candidate, Satveer Nagar. Hailing from an agriculturalist family in Greater Noida, Nagar stresses his farmer roots and contrasts himself with Mahesh Sharma who is a medical baron.
Shivpal Yadav's Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party has also fielded a Gujjar, Jitendra Singh Gujar, who is predicted to eat into the Mahagathbandhan's Gujjar and Yadav votes. On the other hand, the Congress has fielded Arvind Singh Chauhan, whose father Thakur Jaiveer Singh is now with the BJP. His presence is expected to cut into the BJP's votes and help the Mahagathbandhan.