For Muslims, M is for Mulayam
Geographically, the two Muslim-dominated districts Azamgarh and Muzaffarnagar might be 900 km apart. But there was no variance in their political disposition in this election.
"The wind that started from the east has reached the west," quipped Mufti Zulfiqar Ali in Muzaffarnagar. He was referring to the rise of Samajwadi Party in the first two phases of polling in eastern UP.
Wary of support from Dalits and Brahmins, the Congress decided to walk the untested path - the Muslims and the most backwards. But the move boomeranged. Mulayam Singh Yadav became the Muslims' first choice and the BJP took away a slice of their Most Backward Class support bank.
So why did the quota card of the Congress fail?
"Muslims felt betrayed as the 4.5% quota was for minorities, of which they were a small beneficiary," said Zafaryab Jilani, legal adviser to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
What irked Muslims further was the failure of the Congress to incorporate Union law minister Salman Khurshid's statement on enhancing quota for minorities in the party manifesto.
In contrast, Mulayam not only announced quota proportional to the population but also included it in the manifesto.
To the woe of the Congress, the fiery statements from several leaders, including Digvijay Singh, Beni Prasad Verma and Khurshid, in the aftermath of the quota issue infused life in the BJP campaign, giving it a communal spin.
Jilani, however, feels smaller parties like Peace Party and Qaumi Ekta did more damage to the community by splitting votes.
The mufti held similar views. "Since Independence, Muslims never floated their own party and don't want to," he said. "Instead, they have accepted parties led by Hindu leaders."
The Congress had also alienated Muslims by allowing shilanayas (though at the undisputed site) of the Babri Masjid/Rama temple complex. Mulayam remained careful about his public image.
"He is the only leader to raise our issues in Parliament," said Hazi Mohammad Ayub, a Muslim leader in Deoband.
"Did you hear any other leader react to the Ayodhya verdict as Mulayam did?" he added.