That’s the poll tone in western UP: you hear it in Hindu-Muslim divide, in Modi’s silence.
The staff club of the Aligarh Muslim University is the hub of tea, smoke and rage against the Samajwadi Party. There is talk, here, of the AMU Teachers’ Association campaigning against Mulayam Singh Yadav in Azamgarh. On April 8, the AMUTA appealed to all “Muslim and secular voters” to vote carefully, to defeat not just the “communal” forces responsible for Gujarat 2002, but also to punish the “pseudo secular” guilty of Muzaffarnagar. In February, the AMUTA had opposed the SP chief’s visit to the campus. The communal rioting the SP government presided over last year has been a turning point in the relationship between the university and the leader it was the first, the story goes, to affectionately call “Maulana Mulayam”.
Step away from the campus’s stately structures and leafy spaces, and this election seems to play out differently, even in Aligarh. Take a walk up the mostly-Muslim Uppar Court market in the old city area, set on an incline and bordered with shops crammed with biscuits, bangles and locks, and every conversation underlines the same impression: There is a draining of Muslim anger against the SP.
Here, the blame for Muzaffarnagar is assigned to the local administration. Or, the accountability question is shrugged away wearily — riots have happened before, and hasn’t the minority community always paid the more terrible price? Travelling through ground zero in Muzaffarnagar, too, you sense the Muslim voter making his peace with the party that has most conspicuously courted pro-minority credentials in UP.
And so what if the rioting that took a toll on both communities led to the large-scale displacement of Muslims to relief camps that, seven months later, are crowded with those who were made victims many times over, first by the riots and then by continuing failures of justice, relief and rehabilitation. For now, they say, the focus must be on defeating the party that Narendra Modi’s candidature and the Muzaffarnagar danga have heaved to frontrunner position. It is another matter that, in many places, the BSP could gain more from this calculation than the SP — because its candidate has the advantage of a fixed and transferable “core” vote and because, in the end, candidates’ strength could matter more than party loyalty.
But splayed out between the AMU campus and Uppar Court is the incredibly constricted choice before western UP’s Muslim electorate, which votes today: On one end, the educated, middle-class (non-voting) section’s anger against a government that betrayed its fundamental promise to secure the life and liberty of the minority. On the other, in the face of a greater fear, continued…