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Friday, March 06, 2009

Lok Sabha elections 2009: Will UP Muslims vote for SP?

Elections are just round the corner and Uttar Pradesh, with 80 constituencies hold the key to the Centre.

Neither the Congress nor the BJP appear getting more than 150 seats in the current scenario. With Left no longer keen to support Congress, there is an uncertainty as to which alliance will form the government.

The regional parties are flexing muscles due to this crisis. From Sharad Pawar to Chandrababu Nayudu and Lalu Yadav, every self-styled satrap is dreaming of becoming the Prime Minister, just like HD Devegowda and IK Gujaral had managed to do, with outside support.

It is this reason that UP has again become crucial state in this election. Last election despite SP and BSP getting chunk of seats, they couldn't wield proportionate influence at the Centre.

But with Communist parties upset with Congress, UP has become a vital state. This is the reason that SP has tied with Kalyan Singh despite criticism and fear of vote loss. And BJP is fielding all its old warhorses.

Will Muslims vote for Samajwadi Party?

In over half-a-dozen Assembly and Parliamentary elections since early 90s, every time there is the speculation that Muslims will leave Mulayam Singh. But psephologists have been proved wrong.

The reason is that while Congress remains an almost non-player, Muslims aren't exactly sure about BSP. Mayawati does speak out Muslims a couple of times every year, she is not too concerned about them.

I personally also feel that she is not aware about sentiments of Muslims as hers is a party that in its banners and posters never gave any importance to Muslim heroes--be in the field of nation building, literature or social welfare. Not even for the sake of inclusion can you see a banner or poster recognising Muslim presence at the BSP's conferences and functions.

She doesn't seem to have any plan about welfare of the community. Ever since she cosied up with the Upper Castes, Muslims seem to have been forgotten. However, there is the usual speculation whether Muslims will vote for SP?

Over 55% Muslims in UP have voted for Mulayam Singh in most elections. Though it's a substantial percent, the figure suggests that there is considerable vote going to BSP and other parties including BSP, Congress and Lok Dal with even a very marginal vote to BJP. So in that sense, it's not that all Muslims just go and push the button for bicycle.

Dalits are considered the biggest block in UP with 21% populace followed by Muslims (19%) and Yadavas (11%). Brahmins constitute nearly 7% of the voter while the rest of the Upper Caste are around 6%. Castes like Kurmis, Lodhs, Jats have areas of concentration spread across the state.

People just want peace

The results of the Bhadohi Assembly by-election that was declared just three days back, have again proved that Muslims haven't drifted. Else, the victory of SP wouldn't have been possible.

The BSP candidate was quite strong and there were several Muslim contestants in the fray but the SP candidate won though he isn't a Muslim. Every party had made it a prestige issue because it was the last poll before Parliamentary elections.

Bhadohi has 37% Muslim electorate and it's quite clear that they voted for cycle. Congress managed to get just 2,500 votes. Why? Clearly, it's not that the goodwill earned by Mulayam Singh Yadav during the demolition of Babri Masjid, is reason enough for this support.

Journalist Zafar Agha says that Bhadohi residents (like most of the silent rural and poor voter that doesn't speak on TV and whose opinion is not sought in discussions) haven't forgotten the riots that were an annual feature till 1993, when the first Mulayam Singh-led government had come to power in UP.

"The weavers of Bhadohi, mostly Ansaris, must have recalled the horrific communal riots that occurred in towns of UP for forty years under Congress rule". He mocks at sections who said that SP will lose the support because of rebellion by Shafiqur Rahman Barq or dissent shown by Azam Khan and others of his ilk.

Perhaps, he is right. It is a hard truth. For the last 16 years, UP has seen no major communal riot. Of course, BSP has also been in the power. Elsewhere Muslims do vote for Congress, but it seems in UP they are still wary because they haven't forgotten the past when towns where the Muslims were employed in industries were constantly rocked by riots--Firozabad, Moradabad, Aligarh et al.

Peace and riot-free atmosphere, it seems, they yearn for. But the day is still far when ensuring peace and law-and-order would be considered the most basic qualification of any party to run the government.

Read earlier posts on this blog:

Congress and communal riots in India

Fall of Congress in Uttar Pradesh