FOR THE last 21 years, Ayodhya had voted for the BJP. No mainstream party had ever fielded a Muslim candidate from the constituency. The record is set to change this time, with the BSP fielding Bazmi Siddiqui (34), a local businessman who runs a bicycle showroom in Faizabad.
While most members of the Muslim community are tightlipped about their choice — Ayodhya goes to the polls on Monday — many claimed Siddiqui would receive a sizeable share of votes, even as many others professed support for sitting Samajwadi Party MLA and minister Pawan Pandey. They reasoned that Siddiqui is new — he joined politics only two years ago — and local Muslims in earlier elections had supported either the SP or the Congress.
BSP leaders, nevertheless, appear confident. “Among the 3 lakh voters in Ayodhya, there are around 50,000 Muslims and 60,000 Dalits. They will help us give a tough fight to the BJP and SP nominees. We hope Siddiqui will fetch at least half the Muslim votes, most of which usually go to the SP,” a local party leader said.
Pandey enjoys the confidence of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and had continued in the Cabinet even after then SP state president Shivpal Yadav had expelled him from the party last year. After taking over the party’s reign following the bitter family feud, Akhilesh had revoked the expulsion and declared Pandey the SP candidate from Ayodhya. Mulayam Singh Yadav had earlier denied Pandey a ticket.
In 2012, Muslims, Yadavs and members of the upper castes, including Brahmins, had voted for Pandey.
The BJP had met with opposition from its cadres in Faizabad after the party named Ved Prakash Gupta as the candidate. Workers staged protests and even held local MP Lallu Singh and district party president Awadesh Pandey hostage at the party office. Gupta, who owns a two-wheeler automobile showroom in Faizabad, was considered an “outsider”, having joined the party only a year ago. He had contested from Ayodhya on a BSP ticket in 2012. Before that he was with the SP.
Even as they have got a candidate from their own community for the first time, Muslims in the temple town appear divided on their choice of candidate.
Shahid (38), a cycle shop owner in Muslim-dominated Beghumpura, said: “Bazmi Siddiqui will definitely get the benefit of being a Muslim but some votes will go to the SP also because the community has trusted the party the most as an alternative to the BJP…. Akhilesh would be able to perform better if he becomes CM again — he could not work freely in the first three years (of the present term) because of his uncles.”
Dilshad Ahmed, 47, a e-rickshaw driver in Tedhiganj, said, “I am on my way to offer prayers, and I won’t lie: I have always voted for SP, as it had tried to protect a mosque (Babri Masjid).” He said the BSP will not get the community’s support merely by fielding a Muslim candidate. Calling it “vote-bank politics”, Dilshad said, “Why did he not take such a step in the past? She (Mayawati) did not develop Ayodhya when she was CM. The Akhilesh government has developed road, water and drainage facilities.”
In the same locality, retired government teacher Pervez Ahmed will vote for the first time on Monday. “While I was working, I had always been assigned election duty and thus could never vote. On Monday, I will vote for a candidate who can develop Ayodhya. I don’t believe in polarisation,” he said.
Idris Ali, 67, a furniture shop owner in Katra, said, “The fight so far was between SP and BJP, but the BSP may benefit after fielding a Muslim candidate. It may also get Dalit votes if the BJP does not play the communal card. I believe there will be polarisation again…. The BJP had won Ayodhya five terms, but still the town lack basic infrastructure.”
Predicting a triangular contest, Sarvesh Kumar Yadav, a tea stall vendor in Raqabganj, said people are dissatisfied with the BJP due to demonetisation. “The Ram Mandir issue will also not work because the BJP will never build a temple. The SP at least has done some work here in the last two years. The BSP, too, is in the contest as a huge crowd had turned up for Mayawati’s rally in Faizabad recently,” he added.
Lending another angle, he Banshi Lal Yadav, a former student union leader and candidate of the Bahujan Mukti Party, is likely to divide the Yadav votes.
Girish Agrahari, who lives near Dilli Darwaza, claimed demonetisation will have no effect on polls. “BJP may gain as BSP has fielded a Muslim… It may adversely affect SP,” he added.