Scramble for Muslim votes in Uttar PradeshApril 28th, 2009 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS
By Sharat Pradhan
Lucknow, April 28 (IANS) Three major political parties in Uttar Pradesh are locked in a race for the Muslim vote, seen to be floating in these Lok Sabha polls rather than being tethered to any political outfit as in the past.
The Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are trying their best to woo the Muslim voters away from the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Thanks to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s marriage of convenience with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rebel Kalyan Singh - better known as the Babri Masjid demolition man - a good chunk of Muslim voters who had remained closely wedded to Yadav are ready to look for other options.
That has led to a scramble for the crucial 19 percent Muslim vote in a state with a population of 170 million that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the highest among all states. Yadav remains ahead of others in the race, but not without devoting a lot of his time and energy towards re-establishing his bonafides with a community that was willing to swear by him until not very long ago.
Both the BSP and the Congress have left no stone unturned to woo the Muslim voter.
That has forced Yadav to rush to India’s pre-eminent Muslim seminary - Darul-Uloom in Deoband - to seek support, after his party’s general secretary Amar Singh was given the cold shoulder. Elsewhere too, Yadav has been busy knocking on almost every possible Islamic door to explain his handshake with Kalyan Singh.
While his clarification that Kalyan Singh - once a powerful BJP leader - had sworn to strengthen Yadav’s own mission of crippling the saffron brigade has failed to jell with a large chunk of Muslim voters, there is a small section that appears to be getting convinced by the argument. And though many of Yadav’s own Muslim leaders chose to part ways with him on this account, he was busy arguing with others that the alliance with Kalyan Singh would benefit the Samajwadi Party with the en bloc support of the Lodhi caste that has a dominant presence in several parts of central Uttar Pradesh.
According to Yadav’s own calculation: “There were as many as 21 Lok Sabha constituencies where Kalyan Singh could make a meaningful difference to both the Samajwadi Party and the BJP - gain for one and loss for the other.”
However, Azam Khan, who has emerged as Yadav’s most vocal critic within the Samajwadi Party leadership, wants to know: “What good could Kalyan Singh do to Mulayam in an earlier stint when he walked out of the BJP to form his independent political outfit and swore to assist the Samajwadi Party?”
Another Samajwadi Party rebel, Saleem Sherwani, who crossed over to the Congress after he was denied ticket from his bastion Etah, from where he had won five times, said: “Perhaps Mulayam was now getting guided more by personal considerations than by the larger interest of the party.”
Sharing the same view, Yadav’s one-time close confidant-turned-foe Beni Prasad Verma said: “Mulayam’s interest lay in his own constituency, Mainpuri, his nephew’s Badaun and Amar Singh favourite Jaya Prada’s Rampur constituencies, each of which have about 100,000 Lodh votes.”
However, Yadav is still desperate to woo Muslims. Other than a media advertisement blitz, Yadav, Amar Singh as well as their backroom boys are working overtime to impress the crucial minority community.
But notwithstanding the campaign to discredit Mayawati by reminding Muslims about her alliances with the BJP three times in the past, there is now a sizeable section of Muslims ready to switch loyalties to her BSP.
“Considering past experience, Mayawati was surely capable of once again aligning with the BJP, but then tell me whom to trust; after all Mulayam too has done what no one expected him to do,” said Maulana Khalid Rasheed, Lucknow’s Naib Imam and head of a popular 300-year old Islamic seminary, Firangi Mahal.
The Varun Gandhi episode came in handy for Mayawati to re-establish her credentials with Muslims. Slapping of National Security Act against BJP’s new found Hindutva mascot might have helped boost Varun’s profile, but politically it came as a boon for Mayawati, who succeeded in sending the message far and wide among Muslims that she had punished the young Gandhi for “daring to make rabid anti-Muslim utterances”. “Hats off to Mayawati for teaching Varun the lesson of his life,” remarked Rasheed.
Still, there are many who see the move as another Mayawati gimmick to garner Muslim votes. “What Mayawati did was obviously a well-thought-out game plan clearly aimed at ensuring mutual gains - making Varun a hero on one hand and seeking credit for nailing him, on the other ,” observed All India Muslim Personal Law Board legal adviser Zafaryab Jilani.
While Yadav and Mayawati were locked in this tug-of-war over the Muslim vote, the Congress was trying to push its own case. “We are the only party who can be relied upon; you can see our track record; we are the only ones not to have ever aligned with the BJP and its allied communal forces,” Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi has been saying at one campaign rally after another.
Whether any of these parties succeed or whether Muslims exercise what is often described as “tactical voting” by going for the potential winner irrespective of his party affiliation will be known only on May 16, when the votes are counted.
(Sharat Pradhan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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