As the single largest chunk of voters, Muslims perhaps matter more in Gonda than any other Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh. But their silence this time is worrying the political parties, even the ones that claim their loyalty.
Some 500,000 Muslim voters comprising 30% of Gonda’s electorate have kept their cards close to their chests. They are not sure which candidate is the strongest against BJP’s Kirti Vardhan Singh in the constituency going to the polls on Wednesday.
The confusion is because firebrand Congress leader and incumbent MP Beni Prasad Verma is not perceived as the only leader capable of checking the ‘Modi wave’. BSP’s Akbar Ahmad Dumpy and SP’s three-time MLA Nandita Shukla are up there too while AAP’s Mahooq Ahmad and Peace Party’s Masood Alam Khan are seen as possessing the surprise factor.
“We discuss the candidates and issues every day but are unable to come to a conclusion,” said Mohammed Ayub, a local shopkeeper. “All parties are wooing Muslims vigorously but the voters cannot make up their mind between Congress and the others capable of defeating the BJP,” said Mohsin Khan, a trader.
Verma has gone hammer and tongs against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in a bid to please the indecisive Muslims, who admit he has hardly nursed the constituency.
That, people say, does not matter for more than 200,000 Kurmi voters solidly behind Verma who belongs to their caste. “The Kurmi-Muslim combination may clinch it for Verma,” said Karuna Pati Tripathi, a medical practitioner at Parasaraya village nearby.
Muslims are also on the radar of SP’s Shukla, as are some 400,000 Brahmin voters. She is considered one of very in the SP not battling anti-incumbency. “Many are angry with our party for one reason or the other. But caste dynamics are such that she should win,” said Rajendra Prasad Shukla, managing SP’s campaign office in Gonda.
The SP admits the contest is with Congress but BSP too is confident of springing a surprise despite its candidate Dumpy being seen as an outsider. “Are Rajnath Singh and MM Joshi not outsiders in Lucknow and Kanpur?” asks Dumpy’s aide Mustak Ahmad, adding BJP was the common enemy of all parties in Gonda.
The BJP hopes “the party to beat” tag it has earned would divide the Muslim votes. But what troubles it is the choice of its candidate Singh, who as BSP candidate in 2009 lost to Verma by 24,000 votes. Many in Gonda are said to be unhappy with him.