India: A 20-fold chance to win the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh

4th Mar 2014

By Sunita Aron

Lucknow, (Hindustan Times):  The “T-20 match” in Uttar Pradesh may just be as entertaining as cricket. At stake are 20 seats – to be decided by 20% of the electorate, the minorities – and in the fray are the BJP and the three non-BJP parties, the SP, BSP and the Congress.

The battle will be tough.

In 2009, the SP, the BSP and the Congress had won 23, 20 and 21 seats respectively. And to play a crucial role at the Centre in case of a hung house, the regional satraps — Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati — need to win at least that many seats.

While Singh is already a member of the Left-led, 11-member third front, Mayawati is keeping her options open. To queer the pitch further, AAP is also aiming for minority support, as was indicated by their decision to brand communalism as a bigger curse than corruption.

So which way are the Muslims expected to vote?

In 2009, they had supported the Congress for two reasons.

One – Singh, who was then their first choice, had embraced temple hero Kalyan Singh. Two – Mayawati, as then chief minister, had lost much of her appeal following the communal riots in Bareilly.

This time, both suffer from equal, if not worse, disadvantages.

While public support from the Nadwa clerics and the Jamait-Ulema-e-Hind came as a relief for Singh and his son Akhilesh, the SP no longer remains a first choice for Muslims. The state government’s inept handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots has had them seething.

As for Mayawati, not only did she let the minorities down by staying away from Muzaffarnagar, she also took time to distance herself from Modi, wasting her chance to win back Muslim support.

A senior Muslim leader had once said, “The government is usually watched and weighed by minorities over their decisions in three matters – kabristan, madarsas and waqf properties”. It probably explains the state government’s recent decisions to raise boundary walls of cemeteries and the honorarium paid to madarsa managers and teachers.

But that may not stem a possible tide of votes towards the Congress.

“Muslims will vote for the Congress if they field right candidates,” said Congress leader Dr Aziz Ahmed from Gorakhpur.

Akeel Ahmad, a local from Bareilly, claimed the first choice of the Muslims would be a national party, since Lok Sabha elections are about government formation at the Centre. “But to defeat Modi, they may vote tactically and this would be decided only at the eleventh hour.”

In the 22 years since the demolition of the Babri masjid, the community’s anger against the BJP had started receding. But then, Narendra Modi arrived on the electoral scene.

Today, his candidature for the prime minister’s post has once again given Muslims a reason to vote en bloc for the winning horse against the BJP. But this decision will be taken in the last 20 hours.Till then, the suspense continues.

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