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With opinion polls suggesting a surge for Narendra Modi and the revival of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, the state’s Muslims are grappling with a fundamental political dilemma.
Perceived as a strong anti-BJP constituency, the minorities are being wooed by all other parties, with both SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP’s Mayawati assuring them of security and playing up the BJP threat in recent public rallies.
“In 2012, Muslims came together like never before to vote for the SP. We felt only a strong, secular government could deliver,” said Danish Ali, an entrepreneur in Allahabad. “But today, there is a sense of betrayal. We do not know which way to go”.
The SP and the BJP, he said, are two sides of the same coin. “Mulayam shows the threat of Modi to get Muslim votes, BJP connects Muslims to Pakistan to consolidate Hindu votes.”
Ali lists out reasons for the discontent — SP’s handling of Muzaffarnagar, its protection to the notorious Raja Bhaiya in neighbouring Pratapgarh, “mafia rule”, the constant eruption of communal tension.
Even as Muslims are unhappy, a section of Hindu voters, including SP supporters, accuse the government of “minority appeasement”. The SP has taken steps to increase minority representation, with Muslims serving as the chief secretary and the DGP.
Is the anger then justified? At the Hazratgunj coffee house in Lucknow, Justice HSA Raza, retired Lokayukta of Uttarakhand, said, “Mulayam believes in the politics of tokenism. But Muslims now want real empowerment”.
What they also want is delivery. In Chandauli’s Nathopur village, Muzammil said, “I don’t care about Muzaffarnagar. My village road is not built. Widow pensions are not paid. There is no drainage and water is seeping into the graveyard. This government does nothing”.
But many observers believe despite the dissatisfaction, Muslims — in constituencies where the SP is strong — will remain with the party. “The SP has traditional networks among Muslims, and the community’s dislike for the BJP is greater than its anger with the SP,” said a senior journalist in Lucknow.
Mehboob Ahmed, a leader of the Muslim Majlis, said the Muslim vote in the state will fragment between SP and BSP. Will this help the BJP? “No, we will not let the BJP win, and when 18-20 per cent of the population is determined, we will stop it.”
His conviction notwithstanding, the dilemma of the Muslims is clear.
Angry with the SP, convinced that the Congress is a losing proposition, unsure of AAP’s ability to win, and fearful that Mayawati may ally with the BJP in the future, theirs is a difficult choice.