When William Shakespeare wrote ‘what’s in a name’ centuries ago, he did not know that in 2014 one name would decide the politics of a Lok Sabha seat.
Defying logic, over 30% Muslim voters of Bahraich reserved constituency on the Indo-Nepal border are supporting a Balmiki candidate whose name happens to be Shabbir Ahmad.
For Ahmad, it started the day he was born. In his words, “My father, Baberu Lal, married thrice, only to have a child. After I was born, I was sold to a Muslim couple for Rs. 300 to protect me from evil spirits. They held me in their arms for some time and named me Shabbir Ahmad before giving me back to my parents,” he added. He never met the Muslim couple again and doesn’t know whether they are even alive.
For this MLA from Charda assembly segment (from 1993 to 2012 till the seat was delimited), this is not the first time a controversy has been raised over his name, even though he won a legal battle after his very first election when he was challenged for contesting a reserved seat on the basis of his Muslim name.
What was a bane then is, however, proving to be a boon now.
“I am the only local candidate and people here know I am a Balmiki,” says Ahmad.
But Muslims think otherwise, and so do BJP supporters. Maulana Arif of Madrassa Misbahiya says, “We are with him. After all his name is Shabbir.”
Maulana adds, “He is not a follower of Islam, but has read about it. He also wears a ‘topi’ (skull cap) at Roza iftar.”
The BJP supporters at Samastarhar village reject him. “Only Muslims are supporting Shabbir, not others. Even Yadavs will not vote for him,” said one of them.
Ahmad is contesting election on a Samajwadi Party ticket and is locked in a direct fight with sitting BJP MLA Savitri Bai Phule. The Congress, which had won the seat in 2009, has repeated its sitting MP Commando Kamal Kishore.
At Muslim-dominated Hussainpur, people coming out of the mosque after offering their namaz say in unison: “Yahan to 100% Shabbir hai.” Why? “Because he has a Muslim name.”
Young Naseem Siddiqui says, “Yadavs and Muslims vote for the SP just like Jatavs vote for the BSP. And as his name is also Shabbir. It doesn’t matter if he offers namaaz or not.”
A few yards away at Barganwa Devipura village, young Afroz Ahmad says, “The BSP did not do even 1% of the work it did in Ambedkargrams. Why should we support it? Their candidate Dr Vijay Kumar is also an outsider. What matters most to us is that the SP candidate is Shabbir Ahmad.”
Again it boils down to his name.