Muslims groups in Uttar Pradesh, as well as some Muslims in his own party, may have protested loudly against Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to support former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh in the coming Lok Sabha poll. But the Muslims of Aligarh, 130 km south of Delhi, refuse to do so. Large numbers of them are likely to vote for SP candidate Zafar Alam, when polls are held on Thursday.
With the internationally renowned, 135-year-old Aligarh Muslim University located at its district headquarters, Aligarh is a key center of modern Muslim thought. Further Kalyan Singh himself hails from Aligarh – his village Madhauli, as well as Atrauli, the constituency he represented six times in the UP assembly, are part of the Aligarh Lok Sabha seat.
This time, Kalyan himself is contesting the neighbouring Etah Lok Sabha seat, but his influence in Aligarh remains palpable. Kalyan is a controversial figure, having been UP’s chief minister when the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992. Traditionally Mulayam has enjoyed the support of the majority of Muslims across UP, while the Lodhs - the backward caste to which Kalyan Singh belongs – have largely voted for the BJP. But with Kalyan having quit the BJP and teamed up with Mulayam, the reaction in Aligarh suggests that Mulayam has added Lodh votes to his kitty, without sacrificing his Muslim support.
Most residents of Upar Kot – a heavily Muslim dominated area of Aligarh town – whom HT met said they were backing Alam. “The SP’s decision to back Kalyan Singh does bother us, but Zafar Alam has a clean image and we’ll vote for him,” said a young man, summing up the local feeling.
“Muslims are largely supporting Alam,” confirmed renowned AMU historian Irfan Habib.
The numbers of Hindus and Muslims in Aligarh town are almost equal, with Hindus having a small demographic advantage. Across the entire seat, however, the population break up is much more complex: Jats dominate the Iglas and Kher assembly segments, Thakurs rule in Kol, Yadavs are the key factor in Gangiri.
Despite its association with Muslims, the Aligarh Lok Sabha seat has not seen a Muslim candidate since 1957. The BJP’s Sheila Gautam won it four times in a row across the 1990s, losing by only 2500 odd votes to the Congress’s Vijendra Singh in 2004
This time, apart from Gautam and Vijendra Singh who are clashing again as BJP and Congress nominees respectively, and Alam, there is also Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Rajkumari Chauhan, wife of a minister in chief minister Mayawati’s cabinet. Following the SP’s tie up with Kalyan, its candidate Alam is now a frontrunner.
“Muslims will vote for whichever candidate is best placed to defeat the BJP,” said Shams ul Qamar Ansari, another Upar Kot resident. “That is the simple rule of thumb we follow.”