From the library lawns of Aligarh Muslim University to the bazaars of Rampur, from the Muslim quarter of Varanasi to the Old City of Bareilly, there is, among Muslims, a wave building up in support of Akhilesh Yadav.
But if instinct is pushing them towards the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s Samajwadi Party (SP), arithmetic is forcing them to keep the rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) option open.
The Akhilesh appeal
The CM does not pursue aggressive Muslim politics like his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, or Azam Khan. So what is working for him?
For one, his language of ‘vikas’ — development — appeals to the young across castes and Muslims are no exception.
In Bareilly, a group of Muslim entrepreneurs list out Akhilesh’s achievements, especially electricity. “In the 12 big cites of UP now, there is electricity for over 22 hours,” says Farhan.
Mohammed Yasir, an AMU student, praises the CM for giving them laptops, scholarships, and now promising smartphones.
There is also an attraction for the moderation he brings to the political discourse. Mufti Syed Ahmed, a Bareilly maulana, points out, “He is accommodative, he is polite to everyone, he has not said a single negative thing about any community — be it Muslims or anyone else.”
And finally, Akhilesh has benefited from his party’s high credibility among the Muslims who think of SP as their own — and here he owes a huge debt to his father.
In Muzaffanagar, Maulana Nazar Mohammed of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind says, “When the SP is in power, the Musalman feels it is his sarkar. We can walk proudly. This is both Netaji and Akhilesh’s legacy. We want them back.” But in 2013, on the streets of the same city, there was enormous anger against the SP for its failure to protect Muslim lives and property. Mohammed claims that the SP government has given compensation to the families of the dead and injured, and arrested the accused. “Many riots happen. At least this government has made some effort.”
But this does not mean that BSP chief Mayawati is not an option at all. In seats where she has put up Muslim candidates, where there is a substantial Dalit population, and where her candidates are best positioned to take on the BJP, Muslim voters may shift to the BSP.
But this is largely tactical.
Why has Mayawati, despite her better record on law and order and riots and public appeals to the community, not been able to strike a chord?
“Has Mayawati ever spoken for Muslims? Does she visit Muslims after riots? She is only focused on her own community. All she wants is money, parks, elephants and statues.”
“Has she ever spoken for Muslims? Does she visit Muslims after riots? She is only focused on her own community. All she wants is money, parks, elephants and statues,” says Mohammed Shadam, a worker in Aligarh’s labour mandi. Mayawati’s general political style — inaccessibility, not doing movements and living primarily in Delhi while in opposition, not intervening forcefully on issues which matter to minorities — seem to have cost her support.
The fact that Mayawati was once with the BJP in does not help. Many suspect she could well have a post-poll understanding. But a former pradhan of a Muzaffanagar village says, “SP is my first choice; but I don’t think BSP can go to BJP now. All her Muslim MLAs will rebel.”
The third reason they are waiting before committing to Mayawati is because Muslims want to judge if her own base is completely with her. In the 2014 elections, a section of the Dalit vote had shifted to the BJP. “She still has Jatavs but it is not like the past, where they were blindly loyal to her. We have to be first sure if they are with her,” says Mohammed, a Moradabad local who drives a taxi back in Delhi and is home on a break.
Over the next month, it will become clear if Muslims vote with their heart or allow more hard-headed calculations to prevail.