The M Factor
With Congress literally absent on the ground, it's SP which might get the Muslim vote
Seema Mustafa Moradabad
A group of Muslims having tea in Moradabad make it clear that they will not be voting for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Says Ahmad, who works in a mechanic shop: "What has she (Mayawati) done for us? Why should we vote for her?" Before he can dwell on the subject, the older Mohammad, who sells garments, interrupts, "But we are not voting for Congress either." Why? "Because it does not exist, that's why," is the curt response.
The others provide the explanation. "We voted for (cricketer) Mohammad Azharuddin last time and what happened? He took our vote and sat in Hyderabad. There is no Congress here now, we are not going to commit the same mistake," they said.
In Badaun, near the beautiful Jama Masjid, the Muslims are a little more charitable to Congress. While they are clear that their vote will not go to BSP, some of them said that Congress would not have been a bad option if it had an organisation on the ground. They all know the local candidate, pointing to his house a few feet away; they argue that the party did not have a chance and can only spoil the votes. Spoil the votes for whom? For the Samajwadi Party (SP) of course.
So, is the Muslim vote going to Mulayam Singh Yadav? "Yes, most of us think he is the best, we will vote for Netaji." This is the general response.
Interestingly, every Muslim spoken to, old or young, man or woman, spoke of the need for development and progress. They all wanted a better life, with more opportunities and jobs. Reservation for them is not a big issue, although all political parties are vying with each other to insist that they will give the minorities reservations if they are elected to power. Not a single Muslim on the streets speaks of this, with some even chuckling about Salman Khursheed's announcement of four per cent reservation. A Muslim youth elicited laughs when he said, "and in his four per cent there is nothing for Muslims, perhaps less than one per cent. It is all politics."
Development, jobs is the emerging consensus with younger Muslims, pointing out that they were tired of waiting now. "There seems to be no hope in sight, no one cares," a young lawyer Feroze Siddiqui in Domariaganj said, maintaining that Muslims, like all others, will vote now for the candidate and political party best placed to fulfil its promises.
The poor prospects of BJP in the coming elections is having an interesting side-effect. As a Muslim candidate said, "It has freed us so that we can vote for anyone and any party, and not necessarily the one that will defeat BJP." In Badaun, Muslims constituting almost 60 per cent of some of the assembly segments, said that the three-corner fight between Muslim candidates would help the BJP win. But Rashid, an old, wise man, insisted that the BJP candidate was a "good man as he comes here the moment we need him", and went so far as to say that the Muslims would have voted for him had he been from any party other than BJP.
The poor prospects of BJP is having an interesting side-effect. As a Muslim candidate said, ‘It has freed us so that we can vote for anyone and any party, and not necessarily the one that will defeat BJP’
There is no doubt that the high voltage campaign of Congress scion Rahul Gandhi has generated some interest among Muslim voters who have been turning up in larger numbers than in the last polls to listen to his speeches. However, many who had attended his meetings pointed out, "But where is the party, there is no Congress here."
The SP, after a brief 'Amar Singh' and 'Kalyan Singh' interlude, is again emerging as a favourite with Muslims in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Sensing this, former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav is playing to the gallery promising development, jobs, scholarships, grants, along with reservation for Muslims. He has been particularly vocal about communal harmony, more than the Congress that has shied away from the issue of security and secularism insofar as the minorities are concerned.
The Muslim vote in UP settles behind a party and a candidate only in the last two days before actual polling, and voters remind us of this: "Dekhiye vote kahan palatta hai" (Let's see what turn the vote takes). The candidates too admit that these elections will demonstrate tactical voting, with the Muslims voting for the winning candidates of secular parties. This could differ from constituency to constituency, but the larger opinion at present seems to favour the SP for whom the Muslims in UP have always had a soft corner.
Interestingly, Muslim voters, when talking about Congress, still raise many objections ranging from the party's position on Babri Masjid, to price rise, a weak state unit, poor candidates. Akhtar, a doctor, said that the Congress was giving Rs 25 lakh to every candidate to contest. "So you know what happens, many come forward, take the money, spend some of it, save the rest and emerge far richer from the elections," he said. The group that has collected around us by now nod in assent; they explain that the Congress might have found it difficult to find candidates if they had not paid part of the election cost.
Discussion about the SP is not ridden with questions and cynicism. There is approval that Mulayam Singh has got rid of Kalyan Singh, and an admission that "yes, we are considering the SP". This comes at a time when Muslims, like all voters in UP, are reluctant to voice their preferences, maintaining that they are still in the process of making up their minds.
The Muslim vote determines the outcome of at least 130 assembly segments in UP, and remains an influential part of the others. In some segments it is as high as 50-60 per cent as in Badaun, where voters argue that BJP will win since all the other parties have fielded Muslim candidates, which will divide the vote. Here, for instance, Muslims seem to be interested in Congress, but a weak candidate is now being seen more as a spoiler than a winner.
‘Azharuddin took our vote and sat in Hyderabad. There is no Congress here now, we are not going to commit the same mistake’
Congress has left its campaign entirely to Rahul Gandhi, who is not willing to share the turf with other local leaders who had some clout in the past like ND Tiwari, Mohsina Kidwai and the younger members, many of whom are contesting elections. Even sitting MPs have not been involved. General Secretary Digvijaya Singh remains in charge, and has been influencing the decision about the party tickets for these elections. There is considerable resentment and anger against him with the stronger candidates making it clear that they are fighting on their own steam, and if they win, it will be because of their own personal strength in the constituency.
The weak party organisation is not helping the weaker candidates who might get the money, but have to set up their own infrastructure for the campaign and for the crucial polling day. The absence of the party on the ground is being felt by both candidates and voters, many of whom said they will not vote for Congress because it would be a wasted vote.
The internal party surveys giving Congress nearly 100 seats seem to be a gross exaggeration as the party is in contest in specific constituencies where it has stronger, recognised candidates. The old vote bank of Muslims, Brahmins and Dalits, which kept the Congress in power in UP for decades, shows little sign of returning to the party in numbers large enough to give them a good share of the 403 seats in the state.