The Hindu – Uttar Pradesh: Why Muslims will hitch a ride on ‘bicycle’

Lawyers in Muzaffarnagar, madrasa students in Bareilly, artisans in Moradabad, tomato farmers in Sambhal back Akhilesh

Smita Gupta

Moradabad, 23 January 2017. A day after the Election Commission (on January 16) awarded the “bicycle” symbol to the Samajwadi Party faction led by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, there was jubilation among his supporters.

As I drove through western UP, Akhileshwadis, as they are called, and Congress workers alike stressed that an electoral understanding between the two parties was now a certainty. But as the week proceeded, and the alliance talks got stuck, jubilation turned into despondency, especially among Muslims, the community that has driven this alliance more than any other.

In Bareilly, barely 24 hours before the SP-Congress alliance was officially announced on Sunday, a young Muslim journalist who writes for local Urdu papers, said: “When Akhilesh got the cycle, there was great excitement; today, there is a sense of hopelessness in the community. The alliance must happen”.

In western UP’s 125 Assembly constituencies, the Muslims are the single largest bloc, roughly 38 per cent of the population (across the State, it is 18 per cent).

For Muslims, the Modi government has heightened its sense of insecurity, with the free run it has given RSS outfits to run campaigns targeted against them, from love jihad and ghar wapsi to cow protection vigilantism. There is a determination, therefore, in the community to use its numbers to influence next month’s poll results.

Community divisions

Class, educational backgrounds and even caste may divide the community, but an overwhelming majority is rooting for Akhilesh Yadav and a SP-Congress alliance, from lawyers in Muzaffarnagar, to madrasa students in Bareilly, to businessmen and artisans alike in Moradabad, to tomato farmers in Sambhal.

Their reasons vary: if students and young farmers see Akhilesh bhaiyya as emblematic of their aspirations, Urdu scholar Murtaza Iqbal in Moradabad says, “The SP is the flip side of the BJP, with its politics also helping to polarise votes. But Akhilesh, unlike his father Mulayam Singh, is seen as non-partisan. And if the Congress joins the alliance, it will have a moderating influence on the SP”.

For the SP-Congress alliance, there is, of course, one major obstacle, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), that has a major advantage in western UP, the Jataav vote that is about 14 per cent in this belt and which is going to turn out in full strength for it.

In addition, with the most backward castes having largely deserted her, BSP supremo Mayawati has been promoting the idea of a Dalit-Muslim alliance in this election. She has given 97 seats to members of the community, with 36 from this region of the State.

This poses a challenge to the SP, for whom the Muslims are the base vote in western UP. But as I travelled through the districts of Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Saharanpur, Bijnor, Moradabad, Bareilly and Badayun, it was clear Muslims will only vote for the BSP when they find the SP-Congress candidate cannot defeat the BJP.

Of course, there are instances such as in the Swar constituency, where SP strongman Azam Khan’s rookie son Abdullah is pitted against the BSP’s Kazim Ali Khan, the Nawab of Rampur: the Muslim votes could get divided here.

As for the Congress, its eight per cent votes will come in handy for the SP, as it is likely to chip away at the BJP’s upper caste votes.

People are not prepared to give it a starring role in Battleground UP, but feel it will play a competent supporting role.

As a young government officer in Badayun said, “We want a milijuli sarkar (a coalition government); enough of these Hitlers.”


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