Maulana Mohd Siddiqui Hasan is engrossed in preparing ‘tabeez’ for his patients: he draws lines with orange ink, scribbles on a piece of paper, recites some sacred verses from the Quran, dips the amulet in holy water and hands it over to the ‘victims of witchcraft’.
It is evening time, there is a long queue of burqa-clad women. The Maulana, founder of Al Markazul Islam Darulfiq Dargah, in a district dotted with madarsas , is in a mystical mood, inclined to entertain any guest or discuss politics. A simple question on the hidden faces of secular leaders enrages him. “Their secular credentials are questionable; they make tall claims before election but jump into the lap of communal forces at the first opportunity.” Obviously, he is referring to the Bahujan Samaj Party.
“I tell my followers that there are only two secular parties, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. They can choose the winning horse from either of the two. Here we will go for the SP as the candidate is strong”. The mood is no different in other Muslim-dominated areas of the State like Aligarh, Kanpur, Moradabad , Rampur and Bareilly. The Congress’ loss is Mulayam’s gain, barring areas where his nominee is not in the contest or the secular credentials are questionable. And as it is a ‘negative support’, the Muslims may not come out in large numbers to vote.
Ironically, the Sachar Committee’s report highlighting the poor economic and educational condition of the community is hardly a poll issue, as the community is still caught between the secular and the communal.
The Maulana says it is unfortunate that the Congress is out of the race. “It would have continued to rule the State had it not reopened the doors of the controversial shrine in 1986 and thereafter allowed the ‘shilanyas’ of the Ram temple at the disputed site in 1989.”
Mohd Arif of Darul Uloom Masoodia Misbahia says the UP teachers association of Madarsia Arabia, which has 1,000 registered madarsas on its list, has already issued an appeal to support the SP. “Not that we are happy with Mulayam, but where to go.” Incidentally, the appeal also tells the voter not to support a ‘kamzor Samajwadi’.
A group of intellectuals in Bahraich. comprising advocates, income tax officer, teachers and businessmen ruled, “Our first priority is our security”. Bahraich has 40 per cent Muslim population and the crime rate in the city is not high.
Prof Asmer Beg of the Aligarh Muslim University is upset at the use of the word ‘Muslim vote bank’. “I don’t know when this myth will break. Since the late 1980s there has been a polarisation of votes on communal and caste lines. Like other castes, Muslims also polarised to defeat the communal forces. They voted for the Congress since 1962, but today it is non-existent. The BSP is unreliable as it aligns with the BJP. Is there option before us?”.. M Hashim of Bareilly says, “Our vote is sharply divided, not only from constituency to constituency, but also within one constituency. This is bound to help the communal forces.”
The community also feels let down by its religious leaders. Neither the All India Muslim Personal Law Board nor its political ally, the Milli Council has guided them.
Till the 2002 election, the Milli Council undertook an extensive tour of the state and issued a list of winnable candidates. This year, it decided to call off the exercise as it miscalculated the power of the BJP.
Moreover, even the religious leaders failed to form a united Muslim front on the pattern of Assam . Maulana Kalbe Jawaad formed the People’s Democratic Front a few months before the election, which could not last even till the elections.
Maulana Ahmad Bukhari, wanting to build an umbrella organisation for smaller parties, launched the United Democratic Front. But that too suffered divisions. Bukhari went back to Mulayam , the smaller parties went to VP Singh’s Jan Morcha. As a senior professor of AMU said, “When they can’t get united in the interest of the community, how can the community, divided in castes and sub-castes, personal and political interests, vote en bloc.”