In Cong-held seats in UP, Muslims identify the end but not the means

Sonia Gandhi interacts with a Muslim woman near Faizabad. (PTI) Sonia Gandhi interacts with a Muslim woman near Faizabad. (PTI)

“Cycliya bhayil puran, tyrewa dagal rahe,
Hathiya bhayil bimar, pilwanwa bhagal rahe,
Pankha ke raftaar, din-din badhal rahe.”

From a loudspeaker on an autorickshaw in Naugarh town under Domariyaganj Lok Sabha constituency blare these verses, which translate loosely as: “The cycle (the SP symbol) has become old, its tyres gone flat; the elephant (BSP) has taken ill, its mahout gone absent; the fan (Peace Party) is spinning faster by the day.”

The campaign is for Peace Party founder Dr Ayub; the target audience is poor Muslims unsure about their choice. With the Congress having lost its appeal in constituencies it unexpectedly won in 2009 — Faizabad, Bahraich, Shrawasti, Gonda, Domariyaganj, Maharajganj and Kushinagar — Muslims anxious about Narendra Modi remain uncertain about the alternative.

This in effect provides the BJP a window of opportunity. That is, however, offset by the fact that Muslims are more conscious and vocal than ever about the need to stop the BJP and stop Modi in his tracks in UP. In the 2007 (assembly), 2009 (Lok Sabha) and 2012 (assembly) elections, Muslims had been largely nonchalant towards the prospects of the BJP and allowed themselves to be wooed by the SP or the BSP.

“Sir, you have travelled, do tell us who the BJP’s top challenger is here,” the elderly Mohammed Hadis, retired from the Army, asks this correspondent at Mahua Bazar in Gonda Lok Sabha.

Because of mass disenchantment with the ruling SP and its MLAs, Muslims are inclined not to count the party as strong enough to be able to withstand the Modi resurgence. At some places, they are looking hopefully at Mayawati’s BSP and its solid Dalit support base as something to rally around. In Kushinagar and to some extent Gonda, represented by union ministers R P N Singh and Beni Prasad Verma, they see the Congress as a potential option.

Two young Muslims in Domariyaganj, one working as a driver in Mumbai and who cannot read and write, the other preparing to go to Kota for coaching classes for medical entrance exams, reflect both the anxiety and the intent.

Sitting with a friend just back from Saudi Arabia, and waiting while their tractor gets serviced, Nazir, the taxi driver, initially offers a deviation when he talks of the job opportunities in Gujarat he has heard about. But then he suddenly plays a video clip about the Gujarat riots on his smartphone. “I don’t think people (in his village Aandi) will be united while voting. If they realise the importance of consolidation, Modi will lose,” Nazir says, predicting that the Peace Party and the BSP will get his village’s votes. He says the video had been sent to him by Shakeel Ahmed, who lost his family during the riots.

At Motipur village in Birdpur is the other young Muslim, Abdullah, the only one in his family to have appeared for the class XII final.

“Whatever strength we can muster we must, to stop Modi,” Abdullah says. “How can I trust him (Modi), believe that he is not communal and can take everyone along? At one time he talks about a puppy, at another he asserts Hindu nationalism. I cannot believe he holds an appeal to 125 crore Indians.”

He won’t disclose his choice, suggesting Muslims are waiting for an indication who between the BSP and the Congress is better placed against Jagdambika Pal, whom they had voted for in the last two elections when he was with the Congress.

In Domariyaganj town, it is Nurul Hasan who indicates Muslims are keen not to fritter away their votes. “The challenge for Dr Ayub is to match his party’s vote count of 2009,” he says. The Peace Party candidate had polled 80,000.

Few seats reflect as much Muslim indecision as Gonda, a toss-up among incumbent Beni Prasad Verma, the SP’s Nandita Shukla and the BSP’s Akbar Dumpy. In Kurmi-dominated villages, Muslims sense a Kurmi rally behind Verma and feel they should pitch in with their votes.

In the assembly segment of Nandita Shukla, Muslims are confident about her chances. And in pockets with a substantial Dalit population, Muslims see hope in Dumpy.

In Faizabad, the choice is between the SP’s Mitrasen Yadav and Congress incumbent Nirmal Khatri. In Maharajganj, Muslims are weighing the BSP’s Kashinath Shukla against the SP’s Akhilesh Singh, while counting out the Congress’s Harshvardhan Singh.

“Whatever the situation today, Muslims will go to the party that appears best placed to defeat the BJP,” says Abdul Majid Khan, a scrap dealer in Kushinagar.