In the 11 northern UP constituencies voting Thursday, the Muslim vote might not be consolidating as firmly behind the BSP as Mayawati may have hoped. The BSP’s calculation is that the fear of Modi, the Muzaffarnagar riots and anti-incumbency will have turned the community against the BJP, the SP and the Congress, leaving the BSP as its only option. Most Muslims The Indian Express spoke to, however, said the BSP was their third choice, after the SP or the Congress in one order or the other.
In constituencies where the BSP has fielded a Muslim – Amroha, Sambhal, Rampur — it finds the SP and the Congress too have fielded Muslims. Even in Pilibhit, where the BSP is the only party to field a Muslim, the SP and the Congress find favour with Muslims.
In Amroha and Sambhal, the BSP and the SP have an edge over the Congress, but most Muslims feel the SP is likely to be ahead of the BSP. In Rampur, Bareilly and Aonla, the BSP is the third choice. In Rampur, the Congress’s Muslim candidate gets more mention from Muslims in rural areas – Chamraua, Milak and Bilaspur assembly segments – while in the city, the home turf of Azam Khan, Muslims favour the SP. In contrast, no one mentions the BSP’s candidate, unless one asks about him.
“Had it been a chhota election (for assembly), people would have thought of the SP or the BSP,” said Sagir Ahmed of Kemri in Rampur, who is rooting for the Congress. In Aonla, where senior Congress leader Saleem Shervani is contesting, the mood is in his favour. Muslims in Dataganj (also an assembly segment), village Majnupur (under Bithari Chainpur assembly segment) and Nisoi (in Aonla assembly segment) name the Congress as their first choice, and the SP as a close second. The BSP rarely finds a mention. “Who in BSP will count us unless we give them more votes than Dalits?” said Hanif Khan of Nisoi village in Aonla.
In Bareilly, cleric Tauqeer Raza’s support to the BSP candidate after falling out with the SP does not seem to have had much influence on the community. Muslims at various places in the city don’t mention the BSP as an option. “There is no option but to vote for Praveen Aron of the Congress. He has also done good work,” said Musharraf Ali, an automobile repair shop owner. In the older parts of the city, many shop owners say they prefer the Congress. “I don’t think the BSP is even an option here,” Mohammad Akram Qureshi said.
The Congress’ appeal among Muslims in Bareilly is hamstrung by the SP fielding an Ansari, an OBC Muslim. “Ayesha Islam (SP candidate) is an Ansari, so most Ansari votes in rural areas will go to her. But (Congress candidate) Aron, too, will get some votes,” said Nabi Ahmed Ansari, in the Nawabganj assembly segment, thus summing up a debate being held among Muslims on which party will get more Muslim votes. Unfortunately for the BSP, its candidate does not find a mention even in the rural areas.
In Pilibhit, the BSP has fielded a Muslim, while the Congress and the SP have fielded Hindu candidates against the BJP’s Maneka Gandhi, the sitting MP. Among Muslims in Barkhera and Puranpur assembly segments, the SP was the favourite over the BSP. “More Muslims will vote for the SP than the BSP,” Anees Ahmed, an Ansari Muslim, said about his village, Paonta Kala, dominated by Muslims and in Barkhera segment.
The BJP could draw comfort from the fact that Muslims do not appear to be rallying strategically to stall Narendra Modi.
After Congress president Sonia Gandhi had met the shahi imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, he had appealed to Muslims to vote for the Congress and not waste their vote on the SP and the BSP. None of the Muslims contacted even fleetingly suggested rallying as one to defeat a BJP candidate. “I don’t think Muslims will unite as being envisaged,” said Tarakh Shamsi, a shop owner in Bareilly’s old city area.