Much of western UP appears to have been impacted by the riots in Muzaffarnagar last year, and campaigning too has acquired communal overtones. But in one constituency of the region, a 29-year-old Dalit woman married to a Muslim is seeking votes in the name of Hindu-Muslim unity.
Running for the Lok Sabha for the first time, Anju alias Muskaan is the Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate from the reserved seat of Bulandshahr. A Jatav, Anju is married to Farman Ali, a businessman and member of the RLD.
The Ajit Singh-led RLD, which fielded eight Muslim candidates in the 2012 Assembly elections, has not nominated a single Muslim for the Lok Sabha polls, aware that the riots have strained ties of its core Jat supporters with Muslims.
Anju, who joined the RLD a little over two years ago and became the head of its Bulandshahr women’s cell, says she is aware of caste equations working in her favour but underlines that her focus is not to reach out to only her own community or that of her husband to swing the votes. “Bulandshahr has 4 lakh Muslims, 3.50 lakh Jats and 2.50 lakh Dalits. I also hope to get the votes of (RLD ally) Congress supporters,” she said.
“I hold public meetings in both Dalit and Muslim majority villages. Having entered into an inter-religion marriage, I cannot think of singling out communities for votes. I have met both Hindus and Muslims. Baaki toh Ishwar ke upar hai (the rest is up to god).”
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Ali said they have been married nine years. “After college hours, she would wait for her father at my friend’s shop. That’s where I met her. We married in March 2005. We had to leave our homes because of opposition from our families. We went to Allahabad and got married in court. We lived in Baghpat for some time. It took our families nearly a year to accept us. There has been no problem ever since,” he said.
They have an eight-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. Anju says she knows the riots have given rise to communal tension but she has faced any hostility.
“Bulandshahr was earlier represented by Kalyan Singh but it has remained a backward area. There is no development, nothing has been done to address the problems of farmers,” she said.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, SP’s Kamlesh Valmiki took Bulandshahr with the backing of Kalyan Singh. The constituency has a significant presence of Lodhs and Kalyan Singh’s return to the BJP is expected to boost the chances of its candidate Bhola Singh. The BSP has fielded Pradeep Jatav.