Images of some Muslim men waving at the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi outside a mosque during his road-show in Varanasi on Thursday made for some good PR for the Parivar.
But most of the roughly three lakh minority voters in the temple town are still a bit circumspect about Modi, although the BJP claims that after the road-show, there has been a change in the minority sentiment.
Haji Anwar Khan from Jagatganj said, “Shia cleric Kalbe Jawad said in Lucknow recently that while Muslims may want to come closer to some BJP leaders, such as party chief Rajnath Singh, they still have their reservations about Modi.”
Officially, of course, Muslim leaders say the community will take an informed decision at the right time – meaning closer to the polling day when elders take a call on which candidate to back to defeat the BJP.
“Muslims are educated enough to decide for themselves. I think they won’t be swayed by political developments unfolding in Varanasi,” said Mufti-e-Banaras Abdul Batin Nomani, who has strong influence among the Muslims here.
The common refrain here is that Muslims would back either Congress candidate Ajay Rai or AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, or both.
“Even SP’s Kailash Chaurasia is an option, especially after SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav decided to contest also from Azamgarh to stop Modi from making inroads in eastern UP,” said Mohammad Aslam from the Daal Mandi locality.
In 2012 assembly elections, the SP won 30 of the 72 seats in the 10 districts of the Varanasi zone. But Badruddin Ansari, former member of the central silk board, said, “We would ideally like to ensure that just as in 2009, this time again the Muslim vote doesn’t split.”
The BJP, however, doesn’t want a repeat of the 2009 elections, when Mukhtar Ansari, who had contested on a BSP ticket and belongs to the dominant weaver community, got 1, 85, 911 votes (27.94%) against BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi’s 2,03,122 votes (30.52%).
Joshi barely scraped through due to a last-minute rally by the RSS.
Saffron strategists point out that Modi’s message to the Muslims before his nomination that he would do his best to improve their lot in the same way as he had done for the minorities in Gujarat, however, may have some impact.
“We are sure that slowly Modi would win over the minorities here in the way as he had done in Gujarat. There is every possibility that in the event of a likely win from Varanasi and Vadodara to show that he has the confidence of all, including the Muslims,” said a local BJP leader.