Election 2014: It’s the Same Old Puzzle
The division of the Muslim voting block and the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots have strengthened the BJP in Western UP, but the region still baffles poll predictors
Sadiq Naqvi Rampur/Sambhal/Moradabad/Bijnor
“Look at this road. See what the past governments have done,” says Kazim Ali Khan, pointing to the 12 km broken stretch from Shahbad block headquarters which leads to Dhakiya village. “It was broken soon after it was constructed and yet nobody has bothered to build it again,” he claims. Kazim Ali Khan, who comes from the family of the Nawab of Rampur, is the Congress candidate this time after his mother and senior Congress leader Noor Bano was shifted to Moradabad. It was his first visit to Dhakiya in a long time. “I represent Swar Tanda Assembly constituency. So I rarely get a chance to visit this part of the district,” he says before moving into a makeshift tin shade where 100 villagers wait for his address.
Clad in a bright-red kurta, a rosary bead around his wrist, Khan’s fashion sense seemed unusual. He started his address with a direct attack on Azam Khan, the powerful UP Minister, and his arch rival in Rampur. “Azam Khan has got his servant to contest against me,” he told them. “I challenged him to contest against me. But he did not take up my challenge,” he continued. “Azam Khan is scared,” he claimed even as the small crowd heard him patiently. “He would have come had my mother been the contestant. He doesn’t fear her,” he says while confessing that Noorbano is not very keen on contesting from Moradabad where there are three other Muslim candidates in the fray. “She had been asking the party to declare her candidature a couple of months in advance so that she could start campaigning. But they delayed it. Even the last time they did the same thing,” says Khan, while adding that the party has entrusted the state to leaders from outside who don’t seem to have a good understanding of how equations work. Sources say that Jaya Prada, too, was keen to contest from Moradabad. “She wouldn’t have contested after the BJP announced Sarvesh as its candidate. It’s him who supported her all through in Rampur,” Khan claims.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of Khan’s meeting in Dhakia, Ramesh, a local says, “This is a Hindu-minded village. We have always voted for the BJP.” He continued even as a sixth grade child sitting by his side chipped in and commented, “This time it’s Narendra Modi who is going to win. He is the only one who is on television all the time.” Ramesh narrates how Dhakiya, a Hindu majority village, has always been a BJP bastion since the days of the Jan Sangh. “Rampur always had a Muslim MP. We were never comfortable with that,” he says bluntly, pointing out the fact that the village was highly educated and at one time had some 300 teachers teaching in various schools across the district.
“Last time we had tactically voted for Jaya Prada, the Samajwadi Party candidate,” says Rahul, another local. “It was because all the BJP workers were supporting her. That is why BJP candidate Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi lost his deposit,” he said, adding, “this time all sections of the Hindus want Modi.” Prada has since joined the RLD and is the alliance candidate from the Bijnor constituency where she is battling hard to consolidate the Jats and the Muslims who don’t see eye to eye since deadly riots broke the social alliance between the two communities.
Her main rivals, Maluk Nagar, Gujjar heavyweight fighting on a BSP ticket, is banking on his own community and the core Dalit votebank of the party, while Bhartendra Singh, a Jat and an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, is relying on the ‘Modi’ wave and the Jat youth to pave his way to the 16th Lok Sabha. “There is great resentment against Bhartendra not only among some sections of the local BJP units but also among the Jats. They may just go back to the RLD,” a local says.
Moreover, Nagar too is getting some support among the Muslims, making him a favourite. Shahnawaz Rana, the SP candidate and the only Muslim contesting from a major party, too, will cut into the Muslim votes despite the angst among some sections against the Samajwadi Party’s handling of riots in neighbouring Muzaffarnagar.
Things are not looking up for the Congress either, after its recent announcement of reservations for the Jats, seemingly under pressure from the RLD. “Post the Muzaffarnagar riots, things are not fine between the Muslim and Jat communities. This is like rubbing salt in their wounds,” said senior Congress leader Raashid Alvi.
Meanwhile, in Rampur, Kazim Ali Khan accepts that it is the BJP which is his main opponent, but hastens to add, “There is considerable anger against the highhandedness of Azam Khan,” a view that was echoed by Sami Khan, a resident of Rampur. “People are very upset with what Azam has done. He has uprooted the fruit carts, brought down a couple of Madrassas and even the centuries-old Gates in the city. His focus is just on his dream project of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar University.”
Although Khan appears to be the favourite, there is a fair chance that BJP’s Nepal Singh, who managed to elbow out Naqvi this time, may have a fair chance. Sami Khan explained: “Four parties, including the SP, BSP, AAP and Congress, have fielded Muslim candidates, which means that the 48 per cent Muslim voting block will get divided.” “There are Lodh votes too which Nepal Singh is banking on,” another
“This division of votes is giving strength to the BJP,” says Shafeequr Rahman Barq, the sitting MP from Sambhal who is a candidate from the Samajwadi Party this time, but adds that there is no Modi wave. “I challenged him to come to Sambhal and contest against me,” he told Hardnews.
“The BJP is gaining in strength because the votes of the other community stand divided. Also, the fact that Amit Shah has given so many tickets to the dissidents who have joined the party could also pay off,” says Arvind Gupta, a doctor and a senior BJP leader in the city.
Meanwhile, Barq accepted that the Muslims were unhappy about the riots but goes on to say that had it not been the SP, things would have turned worse.
“Muzaffarnagar is not an issue among the Muslims in Sambhal,” says Shahzad Ahmed, a professor in a local college. “More than the party, it is the candidate that matters here,” he added.
Barq, who comes from the Turk Muslim community, has a strong base in this district where Muslims constitute more than 50 per cent of the electorate. “Even though the local SP MLA and minister Iqbal Mahmood is resentful of his candidature and has refused to campaign, the people are coming out in support. There were 300 vehicles in his convoy on the nomination date,” he says.
As Gupta put it, “The people of Sambhal are not interested in talks of development till the time it is their community leader who makes it to the Lok Sabha.”