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UP Assembly polls 2017: For Mayawati, getting Muslims is the answer but they ask questions

Mayawati, at her rally in Gorakhpur on Sunday, reiterated her main message of a strong and firm administration.

Written by Vandita Mishra | Gorakhpur |
Updated: March 1, 2017 3:12:36 pm
UP elections, UP elections 2017, uttar pradesh elections, UP polls, UP polls 2017, mayawati, BSP, bahujan samaj party, UP elections muslim votes, mayawati muslim votes, BSP muslim votes Mayawati at a poll rally in Mau on Tuesday. Neeraj Priyadarshi

One of the curiosities in this election in Uttar Pradesh, which does not seem to have a wave, and in which every moving part must be tracked specifically and separately, has to do with BSP chief Mayawati’s bid for the “Muslim vote”. The BSP gets a share of the Muslim vote in every UP election but this time, Mayawati is openly asking the community for its “ek tarafa” or one-sided vote. This time, more than in any previous election, the BSP chief has been pointed in her invitation to the community.

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At her rally here in Gorakhpur on Sunday, she reiterated her main message of a strong and firm administration that would not brook any “arajakta”, “apradh”, “danga”, (anarchy, crime, lumpenism) and put an end to “asuraksha” and “terror” (insecurity and fear). But 10 min into her nearly hour-long speech, she interrupted her more general appeal to her audience to speak directly to Muslims: “The SP is divided into camps. the Shivpal camp and the Akhilesh camp, which are trying to defeat each other’s candidates.” She insinuated BJP-SP intimacies — PM Modi, she pointed out, attended a wedding programme in Mulayam Singh’s family in Saifai. And therefore, “The Muslim vote, especially, will go waste and more than that, will benefit the BJP, if the community does not vote unitedly for the BSP, whose Dalit base is ek jut (united)”.

Later in the speech, after speaking of the BJP’s “broken promises” of debt relief for farmers and jobs for the unemployed, and warning Dalits and other backward castes that the BJP would review the Constitutional policy of reservations or render it “prabhavheen” (ineffectual), Mayawati addressed Muslims again: “Muslims are being given step-motherly treatment. Attempts are being made to wrest the minority status from AMU, Jamia Millia. There is interference in Muslim personal law, triple talaq. (BJP talks of) gau raksha, love jihad, and minorities are looked at with suspicion. PM talks of of kabristans, of discrimination in providing electricity for Hindu and Muslim festivals. Yeh sarasar galat hai, PM ki shaitani hai (PM is wrong and deceitful in alleging discrimination)”.

The BSP’s strategy, in this hard-fought election, appears to rest on an appeal to three constituencies: One, its own base of Dalits — many Dalits at Mayawati’s rally admit they joined the “wave” and voted for Modi in the Lok Sabha poll, but it will only be the BSP for them again in the assembly election. Two, support from the caste group of the local BSP candidate — the BSP ticket distribution, as always, has happened silently and efficiently this time, without the petulance, rebellion and firefighting endemic to the exercise in other parties, and its list of candidates shows a carefully calculated responsiveness to the claims of the locally numerous and dominant groups.

And third, the BSP is trying to attract the support of the Muslims, the community to which it has given an unprecedented 97 tickets this time.

Indeed, in the BSP electoral project of 2017, the Muslims appear to have taken the place of the Brahmins in 2007 and 2012 — in the last two elections, the party had made a concerted bid to add that community to its “core vote”, as the “plus vote”, holding many “bhaichara sammelans” and tweaking its slogans towards that end. This time, with a resurgent BJP looking like a more natural option for the Brahmins, the BSP has shifted its focus to the minority community.

But as the last two phases of this long election in Uttar Pradesh begin, here in Gorakhpur, it would seem that the BSP’s all-out and very up-front play of the “Muslim card” may be up against a community’s hard questions, its disbelief — and its insecurity.

In the congested Mohalla Piprapur, Mohd Javed Ansari, a school teacher, says: “We are not confident of Mayawati. If she wins, she may not acknowledge our community’s contribution. She has joined hands with the BJP earlier.”

Zaheer Ahmad, who has a cloth business, suggests that Mayawati’s outreach is born of desperation: “Doobta kya na karta (she is flailing because she is drowning)” he says. “I have seen the previous Mayawati government. We have no hope from her. She has given more tickets to Muslim candidates but only to those who can win the election on their own. Otherwise, in her party organisation, from ward to nagar to district to state level, where is the Muslim hissedari (participation)?”

Hafiz Anis Ahmad, cloth shop owner and SP supporter who has fought and lost local body elections, points to the larger political climate in Gorakhpur in which the community must make its electoral choice. “In his meetings, Yogi Adityanath has been saying that if the BJP wins they will build a Ram mandir and that if the BSP or SP wins, only slaughterhouses and kabristans will be constructed.” In this situation, he says, “Yogiji se bhidna hai toh SP hi aati hai, BSP nahi (If we have to fight Yogiji, it is the SP that comes to our aid, not BSP)”.

Gorakhpur is a unique setting for Muslims in UP. Here, Yogi Adityanath, five-term BJP MP, and his private army, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, ensure what could be termed as a state of permanent religious polarisation. Here, the slogan is “Gorakhpur mein rahna hai to Yogi Yogi kehna hai”. The question, when elections come around, is about the extent to which caste will chip away at religion.

But this time, Gorakhpur’s Yogi is seen to be owned by his party much more than ever before. In this election, Adityanath has hectically roamed the state, addressing more than 150 rallies and public meetings so far, several times more than in previous elections, with the same message. “I have been travelling by helicopter. I saw broken roads, empty hospitals, but most of all, I saw the boundary wall of the kabristan. BSP-SP have done kabristan ka vikas (development of graveyards). We will bring development. And Azam Khan jaise majnuon ke liye anti-Romeo squad kaam karega (there will be anti-Romeo squads to deal with those like Azam Khan)”, he says at a small meeting late Monday evening at the city’s Ali Nagar Chauraha – renamed by Yogi’s men as “Arya” Nagar Chauraha, just as they refer to the city’s “Urdu Bazaar” as the “Hindi Bazaar”.

If the SP’s image of being a “ladaku” (aggressive) party could be working in its favour vis a vis a minority that is kept on the edge by those like Adityanath, the BSP is seen by many in the community as a Dalit party that rarely agitates on the street, and only works up a fury on personal insults to its supreme leaders, Mayawati or founder Kanshi Ram.

Asked about what has provoked the BSP to take to public demonstrations in the last few years, Gangaram Gautam, zilla prabhari, Lucknow mandal, BSP, who says that his party does take to the street, but only “Behenji ke aadesh par (at Mayawati’s command)”, recounts: “When her statue was vandalised in Lucknow by SP goons. When BJP leader Dayashankar insulted Mayawati. When a wall at the Ambedkar memorial was broken in Lucknow. When the Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park in Lucknow was renamed to Jnaneshwar Mishra park”. “We are not a “jhagdalu” (cantankerous) party”, says Mohd Khalid Niyaz Ansari, local businessman who is the BSP’s Vidhan Sabha Adhyaksh, Gorakhpur (grameen), somewhat defensively. “We don’t get into local pachde (brawls)”. The BSP has a “silent vote” among the Muslims, he claims.

By all accounts, the BSP, formed to give a platform and voice to one disprivileged community, the Dalits, may not yet be seen to be as responsive to the special needs and concerns of another disadvantaged group, the Muslims. In retrospect, its creation of a coalition of extremes in the previous election by targeting the historically dominant caste group of Brahmins, may have been a task less complicated and challenging than its attempt now to cobble an alliance of the oppressed by bringing together Muslims with Dalits.

At Rasoolpur chauraha, a stone’s throw from the Gorakhnath mandir, Nadeem Ahmad, imam of the local masjid, speaks in support of the BSP, as have many Muslim religious leaders and organisations in this election: “In Mayawati’s regime, prashasan tight rehta hai (the administration is firmer). At least, we will be secure in BSP rule.”

But he is immediately countered by others in the group. “Our religious leaders can say anything, go to any party”, says Tufail Ahmed, a weaver, now unemployed. “It is true that the administration is better under Mayawati, but we have no other benefit in her regime”. For Tufail Ahmed, the choice for SP is also born of a lack of choice (“hamaari majboori hai”). “It is just that the SP is unafraid to take our name, and they give us a little, just enough crumbs to keep us by their side”, he says.

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