Septuagenarian Haji Maqsood immediately looked up as soon as Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav started talking about the riots that devastated the area in September last year, claiming more than 60 lives and changing the political contours of the entire state.
Yadav was addressing an election meeting on Monday in the predominantly Muslim Budhana area that saw the worst violence in the riots.
“It was a painful incident. It should not have happened. But we immediately controlled the riots. And for the first time after independence, such elaborate measures of relief and rehabilitation measures were taken,” claimed Akhilesh whose government recently drew flak from the Supreme Court for not being able to anticipate the riots in the initial stages.
“I agree with the chief minister. At least, he wiped our tears,” Maqsood said, adding that he was not the only one reposing faith in the Samajwadi Party.
“The Samajwadis are our biggest and long-time benefactors,” said Mohammad Hamza Ansari.
All these prove nine months is a long time in ever changing politics. Ever since the riots, the relations between the ruling Samajwadi Party and the Muslims in Muzaffarnagar and elsewhere in the state had become quite tenuous.
“Muslims were very hostile towards the state government immediately after the riots, especially here in Muzaffarnagar,” said a bureaucrat posted in the area who wants to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
“Yes, we may have been angry after the riots, but there are other issues also we have to think about,” said Mohammad Imran from the nearby Bassi village.
Akhilesh understands this and that’s why he devoted almost all his address on the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi with barely mentioning Congress. Interestingly, he did not say a single word against his principal opposition in the state, the Bahujan Samaj Party SP and its candidate in Muzaffarnagar.
“Gujarat sent us lions. But we have made a 300-acre enclosure for them near the Chambal river. I will not allow any lion from Gujarat to roam free here,” said Akhilesh in an apparent reference to Narendra Modi.
“No doubt, the earlier hostility has withered away. But that doesn’t mean that the Muslims here may vote for the Samajwadi candidate, ignoring the one for their own community,” said Rounak Ali Zaidi, a political observer and a lawyer by profession.
He said the BSP’s Qadir Rana is a sitting member of Parliament from Muzaffarnagar and it would be very difficult to the SP to wean away the Muslims from him.
Zaidi, however, added that the truce between the Muslims and the SP might help its Muslim candidates in nearby constituencies, such as Bijnore, Kairana, Meerut and Saharanpur.