Around 9 pm, a youth is speaking loudly into a loudspeaker from a small stage in Muslim-dominated Chhipiyana locality. As he holds forth on the politics of 1857 and 1947, the 50-odd chairs placed for the audience is slowly being occupied.
It is a public meeting of Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) candidate from Kanpur Lok Sabha seat, Dr Mehmood Husain Rahmani, who sits on one of the four plastic chairs on the stage.
A few old men wearing skull caps, young men in T-shirts and jeans, and women in burqas stop on either side of the street to listen.
As he takes a chair, Fareed Ahmed, 55, calls out to a youth distributing AAP caps and wears one. Ask him who he will vote for, Ahmed, who sells leather in Kanpur, says: “As an eye surgeon, Dr Rahmani he has done many free cataract operations for both Muslims and Hindus. I will vote for him.”
He is not concerned that his vote to Rahmani may help the BJP win — as many argue. “(Congress candidate Sriprakash) Jaiswal has won thrice from Kanpur because of Muslims. What have we got? Every election they say the BJP will win if we divide our vote” says Ahmed.
The three-time MP and union minister Jaiswal is pitted against BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, BSP’s Salim Ahmed and Rahmani among others. The talk of division of Muslim votes among two Muslim candidates and Congress is widespread in Kanpur.
Rahmani, however, tells Muslims they need not vote out of khauf (fear) of the BJP.
“Aap logon ko BJP se darne ki zarurat nahin hai. Aap sochiye ki har election se ek mahine pehle hi kyon ye gada murda ukhara jata hai ki Muslim vote bant jayega toh BJP jeet jayegi (you need not fear the BJP. Think why only a month before every election, the issue of BJP winning because of division in Muslim votes is raked up),” he says.
He talks of coal block allocation scam and the increasing properties of politicians. “This time you must vote for taraqqi (development) and ending corruption,” he tells his audience.
An MBBS from University of Kashmir, DOMS from Kanpur University, and a well-known eye specialist in Kanpur, 59-year-old Rahmani is contesting his maiden election. He is banking on his social service having performed a number of free cornea and lens transplants.
In Rail Bazar area, where Kejriwal had held his first rally in UP in March, Muslims talk more about choosing among AAP’s Rahmani, BSP’s Salim and Congress and little of stopping the BJP.
“Dr Rahmani is someone we can easily approach. I will support Rahmani as I am tired of corruption and harassment of common men in government offices,” says Md Shahid alias, an autorickshaw driver.
“I hope all Muslims unite and vote for one candidate but it is unlikely. I may not vote for Rahmani but I find truth in what he says. We need to vote for our betterment,” said Md Ashfaq, who runs a hardware store in Rail Bazar.