When Ghaziabad went to polls on Thursday — three days after Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan’s controversial remarks about the role of Muslim soldiers in the Kargil War — talk of development had taken a backseat.
On September 2012, six people — including three teenagers — died in communal violence after the discovery of a desecrated Quran in Masuri area of Ghaziabad. A police station was torched and the area was labelled as ‘sensitive’ by police. With time peace returned to Masuri.
But on Monday, the tenuous calm was shattered by Khan. Speaking barely a few metres away from the road where the violence unfolded, he said, “Kargil fateh karne Hindu nahi, Musalmaan fauji the (Those who ensured victory in Kargil weren’t Hindu but Muslim soldiers).”
Since then, Khan has been at the centre of a controversy with BJP candidate, former army chief General VK Singh — who mentions fighting in the Kargil War in his personal manifesto for the constituency — condemning the statement, stating that, “Indians won the Kargil War for India”.
But the religious polarisation that followed in Ghaziabad was hard to miss on polling day. Voters began streaming into the heavily guarded small school in Masuri, that served as a polling both, as early as 6 am. “Most Muslims in the area are voting for the SP. Even those who are registered with us as traditional Congress voters are not voting for us,” a poll management agent for the party said.
But in other parts of Ghaziabad, the story was the opposite. “We are voting for Narendra Modi. We are voting for the lotus because they talk about things important to Hindus such as the protection of cattle. The present government is only concerned about minorities vote bank,” Vishnu Dev Singh, a resident of Vijay Nagar, said.
BSP candidate Mukul Upadhyay admitted the religious polarisation that had followed after Khan’s remarks had affected voting patterns. “While we are confident that we will win, we cannot deny that there was no religious polarisation. Azam Khan’s remarks made the voting about religion,” he said.