A woman welcomed in a madarsa at nine in the night in conservative, Muslim-dominated Bahraich city sounds implausible. But the warmth with which Maulana Arif, principal of Madarsa Darul-Uloom Masoodia Misbahiya Khasihari Masjid, opened the door of his institute for a woman journalist speaks volumes for the changes that have come in. (Barely a few years ago, women were not allowed to enter madarsas.)
The maulana offered delicious chat-papadi with a prompt lowdown on Muslims and UP elections as delectable dessert. The English dictionary found prominent place among the pile of books on Islam in his office. The adjacent room was a computer lab. The maulana said proudly, “My imams would speak fluent English to match the lingo needs of the coming generations.”
Bahraich, where the Muslims comprise 50% of the electorate, is a springboard for assessing the mood of the community. And their votes could make or mar the fortunes of the Samajwadi Party, Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and the fledgling Peace party, not only in Bahraich but in the state.
Muslims do understand why parties are hungry for their votes. But many complain they have reduced to just vote banks. In Barabanki-Bahraich-Balrampur-Gonda, in east UP, they have vociferously rejected the 4.5% quota, which the Congress believed would help in mellowing their anger against the party.
“We may have a large population, but we are less educated. Christians Jains and Sikhs will obviously benefit,” said Maulana Arif.
Such was his disaffection that he said the Congress would fare as badly as it did in Bihar in 2010.
“We travel across UP and see no impact of Rahul,” Maulana said, adding, “Mulayam Singh Yadav has remained with the Muslims, whether they have voted for him or not.” Seventy per cent of Muslim votes would go to the SP, he said.
However, a cross-section of Muslims does not agree with him. They say the Congress will do better than in 2007 and will be playing a major role in the formation of the government.
“Sonia Gandhi has found the answer. You can write in bold letters that Mulayam will form the government with Rahul Gandhi,” Sheikh Momin said excitedly in Nanpara.