IN THE longest list of Muslim candidates it has ever fielded, the BSP has allotted as many of these tickets as possible in seats generally identified with the community in Uttar Pradesh. Western UP, for example has 50 Muslim BSP candidates, making up over a third of the 149 seats of that region, and over half the 97 Muslims fielded by the party.
In the process, the party has also broken tradition by fielding a Muslim in Ayodhya. Bazmi Siddiqui, a political debutant, is the first Muslim candidate fielded by any mainstream party there since at least the late 1980s, when the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute started to dictate politics in the state.
In Deoband, home to the country’s most influential Islamic seminary, Dar-ul Uloom, the BSP has fielded Majid Ali, its first Muslim candidate there since 1993.
While the party has never won Ayodhya, it had won Deoband in 2002 and 2007 when it fielded Rajendra Singh Rana and Manoj Chaudhary respectively. Deoband is currently held by a Muslim MLA, the Congress’s Mavia Ali, who won a byelection last February following the death of SP MLA Rajendra Singh Rana.
Ayodhya, on the other hand, used to be a BJP seat for 21 years starting 1991, before the SP’s Pawan Pandey snatched it in 2012, defeating the BJP’s Lallu Singh. The constituency has over three lakh voters and local BSP leaders estimate that these include about 50,000 Muslims, plus over 60,000 Dalits whose votes they expect. The BSP’s hopes hinge on Siddiqui being able to fetch at least half the Muslim votes, most of which usually go to the SP.
“This is the first time since Independence that a mainstream party has fielded a Muslim candidate. I think of it as a responsibility to build communal harmony in Ayodhya,” said Siddiqui. “The people of Ayodhya are peace-loving and they don’t want the communal politics of the BJP, which has already fallen out of prominence here in the last election.”
In western UP’s Muzaffarnagar district, which has six assembly seats, the BSP has fielded Muslims in three, one more than it did in 2012. These three seats — Charthawal (sitting MLA Noor Salim Rana), Meerapur (Nawazish Alam Khan) and Budhana (Syeda Begum) — cover most of the area where communal riots took place in 2013, leaving 66 dead and thousands displaced. Begum is the wife of former BSP MLA Kadir Rana, who is accused of having made a provocative speech before the communal violence began in Muzaffarnagar. Noor Salim Rana is Kadir’s brother.
In Shamli district, also hit by communal violence, the party has fielded Muslim candidates in two seats out of three.
Party sources said the decision to field Muslims in riot-hit areas was a conscious one aimed at winning Muslim support, although they conceded their apprehensions about possibly opening a window for the BJP to wean away Jatavs, the BSP’s core supporters.
When the BSP’s vote share fell from 33 per cent in 2009 to 23 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one reason was seen as polarisation in the wake of the riots, with the BJP clinching 59 per cent of the vote.
During its current campaign, the BSP has tried to blame the BJP and the SP for the communal violence. The party’s Muslim face, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, has stressed in his public meetings that there were no riots during BSP rule.
In Bijnor bordering Muzaffarnagar, the party has chosen Muslim candidates for all six unreserved seats. In the Muslim-dominated districts of Rampur, Sambhal, Moradabad and Badaun, half or more of the BSP’s candidates are Muslims.
Outside of western UP, the BSP’s tickets to Muslims are distributed between eastern UP (as large as western UP with 149 seats) and central UP (86). None of its Muslim candidates is, however, contesting from any of Bundelkhand’s 19 seats.
In eastern UP, the party has fielded Muslims in seats dominated by the community, especially in the districts of Gonda, Bahraich, Balrampur and Siddharthnagar in the Terai region. These include four of the seven seats in Gonda, where the BSP had failed to win any seat in 2012; three of seven in Bahraich; three of five in Siddharthnagar; two of four in Balrampur. In Azamgarh, the BSP has fielded two Muslims including Shah Alam a.k.a. Guddu Jamali, its sitting MLA from Mubarakpur.
The BSP’s 97 Muslim candidates account for 24 per cent of its 403 overall. Muslims account for over 18 per cent of UP’s population.