Muslim electorates are up for grabs. There is intense competition among non-BJP parties for crucial minority votes in the state. The parties have been trying to tap all resources to capture this constituency.
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav is on pre-poll dole distribution spree to keep the fast eroding base in the community intact. From Lucknow to Malegaon and now proposed rally Mumbai on November 21, "Maulana" Mulayam has been trying to give message that he is only the true saviour of the community.
The BSP chief Mayawati has also undertaken exercise to go beyond "Dalit-plus-other-community" vote politics. The BSP has been preparing Muslim manifesto to widen base in the community. The Congress has planned to come out with an action plan based on recommendations of Justice Rajinder Sachar committee report for overall socio-economic upliftment of the community.
While providing largess to the community, the chief minister had announced in his budgetary speech that, "in order to ensure participation of minority community in government employment and boost their education a commission would be constituted which would submit its report within three months". The fate of this commission is not yet known. The government had also announced to establish coaching centre for the minority community students appearing in all India and state civil services.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is yet to decide about electoral alliance, presumably has not given thought to the issue. The party had so far been thriving on Jat-Muslim combination in Western UP, which is now under pressure because of Muslim's United Democratic Front (UDF).
With the crucial UP assembly elections round the corner, every party has been promising moon to the community. Apart from sops there are deliberate efforts by the SP to create fear psychosis of BJP comeback. However, the parties that were in power during the last five years had hardly any credible record for the welfare of the community. Even though tall promises were made, there had been no attempt for policy intervention to remotely eradicate basic socio-economic problems of the community.
While the BSP had no specific action plan during its 15-month regime, Yadav government adopted "Ulema-centric" approach to keep tight leash over the community. Local bodies elections however indicated that the strategy has backfired. The SP's "cash-n-kind" support to turbaned Mullahs has not gone down well with the community. There is strong feeling in the community that clerics could no longer be arbitrators of their votes.
Ulema have also been trying to directly fish in troubled waters in UP. Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad vainly floated People's Democratic Front (PDF), which was shelved after few months. Simultaneous launch of UDF headed by Jama Masjid Imam Ahmad Bukhari has also turned out to be a rudderless boat. Since politics is no longer taboo for the Ulema (clerics), they have been cleverly trying to mix religion with politics to retain their stranglehold on the community. Encouraged by "Ajmal phenomenon" in Assam, the UP clerics have been trying to replicate Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) experiment.
Interestingly the poor community is simply a bystander in the whole unfolding political drama. The AUDF headed by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal exploited Muslims sentiments in Assam following the Congress failure to retain the contentious Illegal Migrants (determination of tribunals) Act, 1983, which was struck down by the Supreme Court as ultra vires of the Constitution.
Bukhari, known for hobnobbing with political parties in the past, has been trying to project himself as sole arbitrator of Muslims in the state, which has not gone down well with the community. The motives of all the Ulema are also suspected in the eyes of the common Muslims. While clerics have been trying to win over support the people have been making efforts to decipher the hand of political parties behind each cleric. "Who is working for whom?", is the question doing round in the community. Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind has also split vertically. While JUH president Arshad Madni is close to the Congress, general secretary Mahmood Madni has become Rajya Sabha member with the help of Rashtriya Lok Dal and Samajwadi Party.
From 15 percent in 1991 census the Muslim population in 2001 census has gone up to 18.5 percent in UP. Of the total 16.61 crore population in the state, Muslim constituted three crore. While Muslim population is mixed in both urban and rural areas it has mainly urban concentration. The dominance of the community continues to be in Saharanpur, Bijnore, Meerut, Barielly, Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Pilibhit, Rampur, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Budaun and Lakhimpur Khiri and Lucknow. There are 130 assembly segments in which the community's presence is more than 20 percent.
The literacy rate is 47.8 percent with female literacy at 37.4 percent. The literacy scenario in Muslim community is grim as against Hindus' 58 percent and female literacy 43.1 percent in this community. Significantly there is also considerable gap in the work participation rate of 29.1 percent in Muslims and 33.2 percent in Hindus.
The chief minister had also targeted the largest segment of Muslim community by bringing Muslim girls passing Aalia examination from Arabi-Persian Board, which is equivalent to Intermediate in the state, under Kanya Vidyadhan yojana (scholarship scheme for girls). On the pattern of government run junior high schools, the chief minister had also decided to provide free of cost textbooks to students of approved madarsas up to Fauqania level (8th class). Yadav said pay scales of Arabi-Persian schools teachers would be upgraded which would benefit 4500 teachers in the state.
A provision of Rs seven crore was made in the current budget. In 13 Muslim dominated districts primary and junior high schools would be established on priority with the provision of computer education in junior classes. In order to give impetus to computer education, the government had earmarked Rs 52 lakh to 50 madrassas and also establish 25 ITIs in minority dominated development blocks in rural areas. However, the minister for Haj and minorities affairs Haji Yaqoob Qureshi told Hindustan Times that most of the announcements were on paper. Qureshi said that government had done nothing for the welfare of the community during the last three years.
While the SP has been carrying on campaign against Mayawati for her "Muslim-are-fanatics" statement she had come out openly in support of the community by demanding recall of India's envoy to Denmark on Danish Cartoon issue. Mayawati had also sought restoration of minority character to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The BSP has veered round to the view that Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim tie-up could become unassailable electoral combination in the state. But the BSP is to go long way in regaining the trust of the community. Its strategy is now to reach out the community directly.