Signs of change? How Muslims are veering towards BSP in an SP bastion
It is representative of the shift of Muslims to the BSP in seats where local arithmetic does not favour the SP. It also points to the fact that the BSP is making inroads in the areas where it has not been traditionally strong.assembly elections Updated: Feb 26, 2017 20:43 IST
Sitting on a charpoy in the Muzaffarabad village near Akbarpur bazaar, Farooq Qureshi and Sangapriya talk about the “new parties” they will vote for on Sunday.
A driver, Sangapriya is a Chamar and he voted for Narendra Modi in 2014. “He spoke the truth. It was for the country,” Sangapriya says. But this time, he is returning to the party he says is his own, the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party. “This time, it is about making Behenji CM. There is anarchy under the SP; officials do not work,” he told HT on Saturday, the eve of the third phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh.
The return of Jatavs to the BSP is now apparent across the state. But what is striking is that Qureshi adds his voice to that of his Dalit neighbour.
“I voted for SP in 2014, I have voted cycle for 15 years. But the government has not done much for us; this time, I am voting for Mayawati. She should get a chance.” The BSP’s decision to field 100 Muslims has increased his faith in the party, he says.
Both Sangapriya and Qureshi are voters in Kanpur Dehat’s Rania constituency, one of the 69 seats going to the polls on Sunday.
UP 2017 is not one election, but as a journalist put it, 403 elections, for all seats have their own dynamics.
Yet, Rania is representative of the challenges the ruling Samajwadi Party faces in retaining seats in its stronghold.
It is representative of the shift of Muslims to the BSP in seats where local arithmetic does not favour the SP. It also points to the fact that the BSP is making inroads in the areas where it has not been traditionally strong.
Rania also offers a glimpse into the mechanics of the “Muslim vote” and what motivates them.
In Akbarpur Chowk, Mohammad Ibrahim says he likes chief minister and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav but “law and order” is a concern.
How will the people vote? “Is baar haathi lagta hai (it seems like elephant’s turn this time). Mayawati will come back, at least in this seat,” he says. Elephant is the poll symbol of the BSP.
Sitting next to him, Ejaz explains the local dynamics. Rania voted SP’s Ram Swaroop Singh Gaur in the last election. This time, a relative, Niraj Gaur, is in the running. Gaur is a Thakur.
“There is another Thakur candidate, who will cut Gaur’s votes. And there is also a rebel Yadav candidate. Yadavs don’t want to vote for Gaur even if he is from the SP. And that is why the SP candidate is weak here,” Ejaz says.
Wherever the SP is weak, Muslims have shifted to the BSP to defeat the BJP, which, Ibrahim says, is their prime objective.
“We don’t have any problems with the BJP candidate, Anil Shukla. He even believes in a Sufi saint and so do I. In fact, if he were from any other party, I would have voted for him. But how can we vote for a party that says so many bad things about us?”
Seeds of doubt
Satish Yadav, a tempo driver, joins in. He tells Ibrahim, “You are making a mistake. Mayawati won’t be able to make a government on her own. She will go with the BJP. What will you do then?”
Ibrahim acknowledges there is confusion among Muslims -- Mayawati has in the past joined hands with the BJP and may do it again despite her assurances, and that is why he wants Akhilesh as the CM.
“We will talk at night, through Whatsapp and phone calls and try to ask all Muslims to vote for one side.”
But, Ibrahim says, votes may still get divided. And if that happens, the BJP may win. “We want Akhilesh but in this seat, SP won’t win. Out best hope is that Muslims vote for the elephant so that at least the MLA is not from the BJP.”
In towns and villages across central UP, these debates and conversations were playing out ahead of Sunday’s vote. Their impact will only be known on March 11, when the votes are counted.