In the face of stereotypes of the “Hindu” and “Muslim” voter, consider the following:
* All of the 11 Muslim candidates fielded by the SP — considered the biggest party of Muslims in UP — lost in the state in 2009. Murli Manohar Joshi scraped through by just 17,000 votes in the “Hindu” seat of Varanasi. Had he not got nearly 20,000 Shia votes, he would probably have lost.
* While a majority of Muslims doubtless vote against the BJP, no party from among the SP, BSP and Congress can claim definitively that at any particular seat all Muslims had rallied for any one candidate. In Azamgarh, for example, it seems unlikely that the entire Muslim vote would choose from one among Mulayam Singh Yadav and the BSP’s Guddu Jamali only to defeat the BJP’s Ramashankar Yadav. And in Varanasi, Muslims are sometimes irritated when asked if they would heed the joint call of Congress and Qaumi Ekta Dal’s Afzal Ansari to unite against Modi.
Three days before India began voting last month, Jaunpur, considered a small “Muslim” town, got a Dell Exclusive Store, something not even in Varanasi, the biggest city of Poorvanchal, has.
“We had a multibrand showroom, where over half the laptops sold monthly were Dell. Then we got this franchise. We sell around 75 pieces monthly,” store owner Mohammad Haider said.
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Bandana Singh, a young housewife in a traditional Thakur family of Jaunpur, recently completed her PhD thesis on “Changing scenario of Muslims in Jaunpur”. She found that far from having the large households of stereotype, 92 per cent of Muslim families surveyed were nuclear, and just 10 per cent had eight members or more.
Singh also found that only about 25 per cent of Muslims in Jaunpur read namaaz the prescribed five times a day, and as many as a third of all respondents missed the Friday prayer, considered essential for the devout.
The study found that poor, backward and Dalit Muslims have changed more than the influential but numerically small Pathans and Saiyads. Backward Muslims have moved out of Jaunpur to other cities, and returned with bigger incomes and ideas.
“When I was doing my BA just a few years ago in Jaunpur, no Muslim girl would come to college without a burqa; today, it is hard to find a burqa in the college,” Singh said.
Poorvanchal, voting in the last phase on May 12, is far less polarised on religious lines than western Uttar Pradesh.
“Azam Khan said Muslims who don’t vote for SP must undergo a DNA test. Nonsense. Why should we vote as they tell us to?” asked a Muslim youth in Varanasi.
“Do they ever ask Brahmins, Thakurs, Banias to unite and vote? Why only Muslims?” said Rafeeq Ahmad, a small shopkeeper in Bheer, Mou.
There are between 1 lakh and 3 lakh Muslim voters in every constituency in Poorvanchal. A majority of Sunnis seem set against the BJP, and annoyed with both the Congress and SP. Most Shias appear determined to vote differently from Sunnis.
“The SP let our men be killed in Muzaffarnagar. It has done nothing for us,” said Iftikhar Ahmad, a weaver in Ghosi. In Mohammadabad, barely a kilometre from the home of brothers Mukhtar and Afzal Ansari — candidates from Ghosi and Ballia respectively — a Muslim shopkeeper said they must not take the Muslim vote for granted. The owner of a chicken shop in Karhan Bazar, Mau, said voters might simply consider which candidate could uphold the interests of the community.