Muslim Vote Remains Divided in Western UP: Is It Advantage BJP?
A divided Muslim vote can lead to a BJP victory but a united one can make it anyone’s win.
On the road that joins Hapur and Meerut lies a small village named Siyala which is a part of Hapur Assembly constituency.
Silence reigns here, the air untouched by campaign sloganeering. Dalit women work in the fields. Men from Muslim and Jat communities, at loggerheads since the bloodshed at Muzaffarnagar, sit discussing elections at chai stalls.
A few cars come to a stop near the tea shop at a fork in the road. RLD’s candidate Anju Muskan steps out, reminds the folk present of her party’s long association with them and asks for votes. Her story is interesting.
Known as Anju Devi before marriage, she originally belongs to the Jatav community. She married local RLD leader Farman Ali and became Anju Muskan.
Fielding Anju Muskan in this constituency is a masterstroke on RLD chief Ajit Singh’s part since her marriage across the boundaries of caste and religion flies in the face of the BJP’s ‘love jihad’ paranoia and might end up winning them the seat from under the Congress’ nose.
Congress’ Gajraj Singh, who currently represents the Hapur constituency, defeated the BSP’s Dharampal Singh by more than 20,000 votes in the 2012 Assembly elections.
Of the total vote of 3.2 lakh, about 45,000 belong to the Jatav community – the same one that Anju Muskan hails from.
One lakh voters are Muslim, the religion she has married into, and a further 50,000 are from the Jat community which has traditionally supported the RLD and Ajit Singh.
This might lead one to conclude that the RLD’s win is assured but matters are more complicated.
As I enter the village, I run into Taslimuddin Ali who is feeding his poultry. Anju Muskan has just paid him a visit, so I ask him if he thinks she will win.
He replies that the local inclination is towards the SP, which means support for the SP-Congress alliance’s candidate Gajraj Singh.
The story in the neighbouring village though is a different one.
Furkan Ali, getting his cycle repaired at the local shop, predicts a win for the elephant, referring to the BSP’s election symbol.
The Muslim community in neighbouring villages within a single constituency does not agree on who they will vote for.
These kind of internal differences can shake any election. And we find that the story is much the same in other areas of western Uttar Pradesh with a Muslim majority.
Now we head towards Than Bhawan, traditionally a BJP stronghold. BJP’s poster boy Suresh Raina, an accused in Muzaffarnagar riots case, is contesting the elections from here. His rivals are the SP’s Sudhir Panwar, the BSP’s Abdul Waris, and the RLD’s Javed Rao.
Where the BSP and the RLD are fielding prominent Muslim candidates, the Samajwadi Party, a favourite with the Muslim community, opted for a Jat candidate. A divided Muslim vote here could mean victory for the BJP.
Of the three lakh strong population here, roughly one lakh are Muslims. Karumuddin, who makes jaggery from sugarcane, predicts that the Muslim vote will be divided between the BSP and the SP.
The election results, as far as western UP is concerned, rest on how the Muslim community votes on 11 February.
Will they vote based on candidate or party? Will they vote with the intention of defeating the BJP’s candidate?
The behaviour of Muslim voters will decide the fate of all involved, be it BSP supremo Mayawati or Akhilesh’s gathbandhan.
Is Mayawati’s Muslim Card Working?
Electorates in places like Rampur, Muradabad, Muzaffarnagar, and Jyotiba Phule Nagar, where Muslims account for 40 percent of the population, are also looking divided. Neither the SP nor the BSP is likely to get a united Muslim vote.
Perhaps this is why Mayawati in her rallies has focused exclusively on two issues: The terrible state of law and order under the present party and a reminder to the Muslim community to not waste their votes on the SP.
Reading from prepared speeches, Mayawati has repeatedly reminded her listeners that with the SP unlikely to win, a divided vote is sure to win the BJP the seat.
Mayawati came to power in 2007 on the back of a Dalit-Brahmin alliance. In 2017, she seems to be attempting the same feat based on a Dalit-Muslim alliance.
She has assigned Lucknow and Bareilly clerics, along with point-man Naseemuddin Siddiqui, to 140 areas where Muslims make up 20-50 percent of the population. Whether it is Bareilly’s Sunni Ulema Council president Maulana Faryad Hussain or Lucknow-based Maulana Qari Shafiq, all are working towards the goal of a Dalit-Muslim alliance for Mayawati.
Akhilesh vs Mayawati
Two reasons behind SP’s lag become clear during on-ground reporting.
The first is the time the SP’s internal feud consumed, making it difficult for them to kick-off their ground campaign on time. This is why the SP’s presence in this region is so weakly felt compared to the BSP and the BJP. The BJP’s hoardings are seen in every street, and at every bend on the road.
The other reason is that the SP announced some of its candidates very late in the game, giving other parties’ candidates a considerable head-start in their ground campaigns and rallies and delaying their own.
In fact, the SP is changing its candidates in a few seats even now, further confusing the voters while the BSP announced their own candidates with confidence a year ago.
If, after these false starts and obstacles, the cycle still manages to win the race, Brand Akhilesh is to be given full credit.
The Math of the Muslim Vote
In the 2012 Lok Sabha elections held on 11 and 15 February, in areas with Muslim majority, the SP with 58 seats emerged the winner, while the BJP got 42. Congress was the second runner up 21 seats while RLD came last with a mere 9 seats.
The winners included 16 Muslim MLAs from the SP, 11 Muslim MLAs from the BSP, and 2 Muslim MLAs from the Congress. This time around, the SP, the BSP, and the Congress are fielding 49, 43, and 9 Muslim candidates respectively from the crucial 140 seats.
Of these, 26 seats will witness a face-off between the Muslim candidates being fielded by the SP and the BSP. A divided Muslim vote here will most likely lead to the BJP’s victory. If, however, they decide to vote as a unit, the seat of power is up for grabs for any of the major players.
(Shankar Arnimesh is a prominent journalist. Views expressed are the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses them nor is responsible for the same.)
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