Saleem, 32, was a happy man until fierce riots broke out in Muzaffarnagar three years ago. Like thousands of riot victims, he and his family stayed at a rehabilitation centre for over six months.
He later shifted to a rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of Shahpur town, close to his native village Kakra.
To reorganise the devastated lives of riot victims, Saleem later formed ‘Danga Peedit Sangharsh Samiti in January 2014. The Samiti organised its first demonstration at Budhana tehsil office to raise the problems of riot victims.
Three years on, Saleem and his associates have dedicated themselves to bring scattered votes together and make riot victims a potential force during the assembly election.
Saleem is now the hope of hundreds of riot victims who seek their advice to solve their day to day problems.
People come to meet Saleem every morning in his semi-finished brick dwelling where several rounds of discussions are held. “This is the first assembly election after the riots and everybody wants to know our mood,” says Saleem.
In the general election of 2014, majority of riot victims did not cast votes due to security concerns. Some of them also pressed NOTA (None of the above) button to express their anger against politicians.
Saleem and 25 members of his group had exercised their franchise under police security in their native village Kakra and all of them opted for NOTA. “We expressed our anger through NOTA,” said Shaan Mohd.
Situation has changed in the last three years. Majority of riot victims have got their Aadhar, ration cards and other identity proofs and are now eligible to cast their votes in booths close to their colonies.
“As per official records, 50,955 people were displaced during the riots. They are now settled in more than 16 colonies set up for riot victims in different locations of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts,” he says.
Saleem and his group members are in contact with the people who are active in these colonies. They are planning to send small teams in these villages to apprise people about the strength of their votes. After initial hesitation, Saleem opens up and claims that the families of majority of riot victims consider chief minister Akhilesh Yadav as ‘Vikash Purush’.
“We support him (Akhilesh) not because he helped us in rehabilitation but also for the fact that he cares for the poor irrespective of caste, creed and religion,” say labourers Babu Nafess and Kalu.
In the riot victims’ colony of village Palra a few kilometres away, driver Irfan, labourer Momin, Shaan Mohammad and Bhura also voice similar views for Akhilesh.
A caste divide is clearly visible in the area and parties are devising strategies on this basis.
BSP chief Mayawati has given tickets to many Muslim candidates to forge a winning caste equation of Dalit and Muslims in the state assembly election.
“Why should we give votes to ‘haathi’ (BSP’s poll symbol) when their leaders did not care for us at the most crucial time of our life?” ask Rehana, Chhoti and Bathi.
Street vendor Yakoob says the people expected that the BJP would help them but the decision to ban high-value currency has added to the problem of the people. “The villagers are saying in unison that this time no one can buy them,” says Saleem.
Parties misleading Muslims
BSP leader Satendra Solanki said Muslims would support the party in assembly elections. He said some parties were misleading the Muslims to win their support.
Solanki said SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav and his party got Muslims votes by befooling them in the name of reservation. “Muzaffarnagar riots occurred due to the negligence of the SP and no communal riots took place during the five year rule of Mayawati,” he said.
BSP’s zonal coordinator Atar Singh Rao said his party did not believe in ‘politics of riot’. He said Mayawati had been a well-wisher of the minority community and had done a lot of welfare work for them.