Promoting the BJP in a constituency where 25 per cent of the voters are Muslims isn’t a job one can envy. Rumana Siddiqui, the president of the party’s Uttar Pradesh minority wing, is going about it in Lucknow seeking votes in the names of candidate Rajnath Singh and former candidate and ex-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There is no mention of BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, though Siddiqui insists that not much be read into it.
Since April 5, when BJP president Rajnath filed his nomination from Lucknow, Siddiqui’s day begins around 9.30 am and ends only after 9 pm, as she goes door to door in Muslim-dominated colonies to swing the Sunnis towards the BJP. While the BJP has some support among the Shias, the Sunnis are not known to vote for the party.
Since Rajnath’s recent controversial meeting with Muslim clerics to seek support for the Lok Sabha elections, Siddiqui’s task has got tougher. However, the questions thrown her way still deal largely with development, inflation and civic issues. If the Modi factor is weighing on the Muslim mind, they are not letting Siddiqui know it.
Siddiqui moves in a team of at least a dozen, comprising mostly women, and her businessman husband Asadullah Siddiqui, distributing pamphlets and the party manifesto. While the other women are all dressed in burqas, the 45-year-old wears a sari, sports dark glasses and, noticeably, two handkerchiefs (to account for sweat and a running nose).
A political science graduate from Delhi University, Siddiqui was a homemaker before she became the first woman to head the BJP’s minority wing in UP, in February 2013. She claims to have been associated with the BJP since 2004, gravitating towards the party inspired by Vajpayee and because it “gives due respect to women and all communities”.
The BJP felt she could get easier access to Muslim women and, through them, their families.
At 10 am on April 17, Siddiqui reaches the state party headquarters in Hazratganj with her husband. The other members of the team are yet to arrive, and it’s finally past 10.30 am when they set off for Tulsi Complex in Nanda Khera, old Lucknow, 8 km away. The Bulaki Adda locality in which Nanda Khera falls has nearly 5,000 Muslims, 90 per cent of them Sunni.
Their first stop is the one-room office of Anil Mehta, the editor of Public Power weekly newspaper. Mehta, an old friend of Siddiqui, is an influential voice in the locality. The BJP team has to get off their cars and walk through narrow lanes to get to Mehta’s office. Siddiqui’s husband trails them, taking pictures with his mobile phone to send to mediapersons.
As he spots the team approaching, 85-year-old Mohammad Waqf rushes to them. Pointing to Modi’s photograph on a pamphlet, Waqf interrupts BJP minority wing general secretary Mohd Mushtaq to say, “Yeh aadmi gadbad hai (this man is not good)”.
Vajpayee was a good man who understood “the difference between good and bad”, and he has no problem with Rajnath either, Waqf says. “But Modi killed hundreds of people in the Gujarat riots to get political mileage. He should not be the prime minister.” Siddiqui and the others walk away.
After visiting around 200 houses, by which time the day is already hot, they return to Mehta’s office for a 15-minute halt, before moving on to Gaddinasheen Baba Peerakahnal ki Mazaar in a residential area behind Tulsi Complex. Zeba Ansari, the Lucknow secretary of the BJP minority wing, and her younger sister Arshi knock on doors and hand out pamphlets. The two got associated with the BJP five months ago, attributing it to anger with the government over inflation.
In Labour Colony, Bhoori, 55, gives the BJP pamphlet a glance and demands to know when will her days of poverty end. A vegetable seller, she has been finding it difficult to support her seven-member family with her daily income of Rs 100. Siddiqui assures her things will change once the BJP is in power.
Around 100 m away, 73-year-old Jameel Turq, sitting on a broken plastic chair, complains about the local BJP municipal corporator, Rakesh Malviya, saying he hasn’t done anything about their problems — the lack of clean drinking water and a poor drainage system.
“What difference will a BJP government in Delhi make when the corporator and mayor Dinesh Sharma (also from the BJP) are doing nothing?” Turq questions Siddiqui. She promises to convey his complaints to both Malviya and Sharma.
Razia, another vegetable seller, says “Atal” is the only BJP leader she knows. A member of Siddiqui’s team replies, “You vote for Rajnath, Atal will automatically win.” The BJP team is now joined by Naseem Bano, a tailor and a known face in the area. She urges people to vote for the BJP.
After two hours of campaigning, the team returns to Mehta’s office, before heading back to the headquarters. After a lunch of poori-sabzi, they rest for an hour. While they are scheduled to resume the campaign at 4 pm, this gets postponed by an hour because of a dust storm and drizzle.
Mehta next takes them to another Muslim-dominated locality, Jadiyan Talab of Shahdatganj. After a 15-minute drive, they have to cover the distance on foot, across narrow lanes overflowing with sewage water and garbage.
The BJP team stops outside a saw mill to pick up owner Anwar Jahan, 62. Jahan, who hastily wears some make-up, is well respected in the locality.
Her presence opens many doors for the BJP team, including of Mehboob Alam Siddiqui, an Urdu tuition teacher. Telling his students to continue with their lesson, Mehboob steps out to hear Siddiqui pitch for Rajnath. “He is a good candidate, but I will decide my vote only on polling day,” Mehboob tells her.
Jahan dismisses the remarks of Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawaad that Muslims are afraid of Modi. A Sunni, she says:
“Why should I be afraid of him when he has done no harm to me?”
At 7.30 pm, having visited nearly 600 houses that day, the BJP minority team returns to the party office. Siddiqui and other senior workers stay back to decide the itinerary for the next day, the target being to cover four-five localities everyday.
Apart from a few slogans raised by Mushtaq hailing Modi, the BJP PM nominee is missing from this part of the Rajnath campaign. Admitting this, Siddiqui says, “Currently, we are campaigning in Lucknow, where Rajnathji is contesting. Soon, we will campaign in Varanasi for Modiji and appeal for votes for him.”
State BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan is confident that on polling day, April 30, Muslims will show their confidence in Modi. “In BJP-ruled states, all communities have benefited from development,” he says.