As Uttar Pradesh continues to vote, opinion of poll pundits change after every speech that the Prime Minister or the incumbent CM make, leading the voters to rethink the outcome of the ongoing and fiercely-fought political battle.
UP, the most populous state of the country, is also home to the largest number of Muslims in India. Around 3.85 crore in number, the Muslims account for 19.26 percent of the total population of the state.
A majority of this number lives in the relatively prosperous western part of the state, often referred to as Rohilkhand. However, a significant part is based in north-eastern UP called Purvanchal, that goes to vote in the last two phases on 4 and 8 March.
No pollster or media house, leaning left or right, has doubts that the minority community holds considerable sway, and has the ability to tilt the balance in favour of any party they support.
Post the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, it has been widely reported that the predominant vote of the Muslim community will go to the secular ‘UP ke ladke’ team of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav.
Though it is often said that the voters in india have a short-lived memory, yet, there are a few important issues that impacted the Muslim community, and are expected to influence the voting pattern as well.
1) Murder of DSP Zia-Ul-Haque
On the night of 2 March 2013, Deputy Superintendent of Police Kunda (District Pratapgarh), was brutally murdered while he was investigating a crime in the stronghold of the dreaded gangster Raja Bhaiya.
The late officer’s wife Parveen Azad had lodged an FIR against the SP legislator, but the Akhilesh Yadav government did not do much and the latter continued to remain the Cabinet Minister in the SP government.
In these elections, Raja Bhaiya is contesting from the same seat, not on SP’s ticket but as a tacitly supported candidate.
2) Mukhtar Ansari’s Clout
Another gangster from the region who enjoys a sizeable clout is the sitting and four-time MLA from Mau – Mukhtar Ansari. His political outfit, Quami Ekta Dal, led by him and his two brothers, Afzal and Sibagatullah, had won three seats in the 2012 assembly elections and had polled over 3.5 lakh votes during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
After Akhilesh scrapped an alliance with the party, the don-turned-neta decided to join hands with the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mukhtar Ansari and his brothers enjoy significant clout in the districts of Varanasi, Mau, Azamgarh and Ghazipur, and are contesting on the BSP ticket this time around.
3) Peace Party and the AIMIM
Dr Mohamed Ayub’s Peace Party that largely relies on Muslim votes, had won four seats during the 2012 assembly elections. It has been widely reported by the local media that despite repeated requests, Akhilesh turned down an alliance proposal with the outfit, which is now contesting in alliance with smaller parties.
Fire brand leader from Hyderabad, Asaddudin Owaisi, whose party AIMIM is also contesting from the state, has openly accused the SP to be ‘hand in glove’ with the BJP, and responsible for the backwardness of Muslims which have traditionally voted for the SP in the state.
Both these Muslims outfits have openly criticised the SP and have been soft on the BSP, often sending out a message that if the choice is between these two, the Muslims should pick the latter.
4) UP’s Dying Textile Industry
A large number of Muslims in the region try hard to survive as labourers and small traders in the dying weaving (textile) industry. The once labour-intensive industry has been impacted by several state-controlled issues like power supply and allowing bigger companies from developed states like Gujarat to dump goods in the region.
5) VIP Districts versus the Rest
On one hand, VIP districts like Rampur (Azam Khan’s constituency), Badaun (Akhilesh’s cousin Dharmendra Yadav’s constituency) and other Yadav strongholds of Etawah and Kannauj receive 22-24 hours of electricity, the eastern districts often suffer from power cuts that stretch to eight hours a day.
Who Will the Muslims of UP Vote For?
The Muslims have often been known to vote en bloc and do so tactically to defeat the BJP. The highly politically sensitive community is also known to not forget the political scars inflicted upon it – be it the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, the 2002 Godhra riots or the 1983 Nellie massacre.
After BSP supremo Mayawati’s clear call to the community to trust her party, and the much talked about tacit understanding of Akhilesh with BJP since the Muzaffarnagar riots, what remains to be seen is – who will the Muslims vote for.
One thing that can be said for sure is – ‘UP ke ladke’ cannot take the last two phases for granted. It is these two phases that will decide whether it will be Akhilesh, Dalit ki beti or the BJP that will occupy one of the most significant political thrones of the country – the post of Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister.
(The author is a Bangalore based freelance journalist, covering politics, economy and international affairs. He can be contacted at: @haider_talat. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)