Political sweepstakes over minority votes in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh hotted up on Thursday, with both the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) making rapid-fire announcements favouring 'quota within quota' for backward Muslims.
Law minister and Congress leader Salman Khurshid reiterated the party position favouring 6% reservation for backward Muslims within the 27% quota of Other Backward Castes (OBCs), while BSP supremo Mayawati also demanded the same for the community.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) - the third important political player in the state - rubbished the "pre-election gimmickry" of the Congress and the BSP, saying, "Both the parties had been exposed, as regards their commitments to the Muslims".
"Mayawati upturned all pro-minority schemes initiated by the earlier Mulayam Singh Yadav government, while the Congress has failed to implement the recommendations of the Rajinder Sachar and Ranganath Mishra commissions. The false promises of these parties at this stage will have no impact on the minds of Muslim voters," the SP said in a statement.
The sudden focus of "secular parties" on the minorities also appears to have provided a window of opportunity to the "saffron brigade" to consolidate the Hindu votebank.
"The Muslims are conducting a 'population jehad' on the country. Now, the government intends to blend this with a 'reservation jehad'. All proposals aimed at providing reservation to Muslims must be immediately withdrawn," said VHP leader Pravin Togadia.
Constituting approximately 14% of the state electorate, Muslims are estimated to be in a dominant position in about 125 of the total 403 seats in the UP assembly, while being in a position to swing the outcome in about 50 other seats.
For the present, Muslim voters in UP apparently have divided loyalties. The Peace Party - a forum of minority Muslims -is split between the SP, BSP and the Congress, while other groups such as the Quami Ekta Dal, Momin Conference and the Apna Dal, also, have decided to go their separate ways.
"Schemes meant for minority districts have remained on paper. All political parties have failed to address issues concerning common Muslims," said Syed Babar Ashraf of the All India Ulema Mashaik Board.