Rabiya Khan and Shubhi Sharma argue over their electoral preferences while sipping tea in the canteen of Aligarh Muslim University. Rabiya, 20, says she cannot vote for a “polarising figure like Narendra Modi”, while Shubhi roots for Modi and says the country cannot get a better PM.
Another group of students in front of the arts faculty cheer for the Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal, seeing some hope in this untested alternative. First-time voters Imran, Rehan and Majid Ali want to vote for the AAP and seem perturbed by the mention of Modi. “We know what he did in Gujarat. If he becomes PM, our future will be insecure,” Imran says.
“Haven’t we seen his record of development in Gujarat? He is a solid leader,” counters Rahul Mishra.
Abdul Kadri Geelani, vice president of the AMU students’ union, joins in: “The AAP won’t help. The Congress has done nothing for us either. The Samajwadi Party is the way to go. As for Modi, his model is that of suppression of Muslims.”
Voting trends in Aligarh, as across western Uttar Pradesh, seem to be deviating from the common theory that the Muslim vote consolidates behind the candidate best poised to beat the BJP and the Hindu vote divides on caste lines. Muslims remain deeply suspicious of Modi, but their vote this time appears split among the Samajwadi Party, the Aam Aadmi Party and to some extent, the Congress. It is the Hindu vote that seems to be consolidating behind Modi, even breaking caste barriers.
Kuldeep, who owns a chat stall in Aligarh’s busy Centre Point market, says he will vote for Modi without hesitation, thouh he is not even aware who the BJP candidate is. A few steps away, a Muslim jeweller says Modi will turn “the entire country into Gujarat”. He remains undecided between the SP and the AAP.
Besides the consolidation of Hindu votes behind Modi, another common thread is deep anger against the Congress. In Nibri village a few kilometres outside the city, Muslims are hoping for a milijuli sarkar. The Congress, they say, has done nothing for the country, economy or for the minorities. The Hindus, though much fewer, say the Congress does nothing for the development of the country. They predictably say they will vote for Modi.
At AMU, Ali Abbas says, “What happened to the recommendations of the Sachar Committee? The Congress jumps to provide reservation for SCs, STs, OBCs but not for Muslims.”
The SP has apparently not suffered as much had been expected for the Muzaffarnagar riots. Muslims are in fact attributing the riots to Modi’s “polarising influence”. What, however, could go against the SP is anger about law and order.
It could be uphill also for the BSP, which represents Aligarh. In Bheempur outside Aligarh city, primarily a “Jatav village”, most say there is no doubt they will vote for the BSP. But here, too, a few voices, however, have started murmuring Modi’s name.