FROM THE FRONT PAGE
In the face of Congress, SP only Muslim communalism
By Pramod Kumar from Bareilly
As the election campaign for sixth and seventh phases in Western Uttar Pradesh is reaching at peak, the mad race among Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and BSP to woo Muslims is also touching new heights. In this race, the Congress went on the extent to even challenge the powers of Election Commission (EC), when it grilled the Congress leaders for repeatedly violating the model code of conduct. On the other hand the SP managed the support of Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, while the RLD completely surrendered before the notorious Haji Yaqoob Qureshi and Mahmood A Madani by making them star campaigners. Despite that none of these parties is sure to get Muslim votes, as the Muslims are likely to make up their mind only a day before the polling.
In order to understand the political pulse of Western Uttar Pradesh, I toured the region from February 18 to 21. Some parts of the region including Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Aligarh, Bulandshahar, Mathura and Agra are going to polls on February 28, while the Rohilkhand region mostly comprising of upper Ganges alluvial plain including Rampur, Bareilly, Shahjahanpur, Pilibhit, Amla, Badayun, etc will witness polling on March 3. In 2007, the BSP had won 68 of the total 136 seats in this region, while the BJP won 22, SP 21, Congress 5, RLD 10 and nine seats had gone to Independents. After delimitation the number of these seats has increased to 145.
Let’s start from Agra. The BSP is facing a very tough fight in this dalit dominated belt where it had won 7 of the total 9 seats in 2007. The Jatav community which voted for Maya en mass then is now divided, as a section of them has shifted to other parties following tickets to some influential Jatav leaders. The SP too is seen opening its account on a seat, but the Congress is nowhere in the picture. Despite crossing all limits to woo Muslims, the community is still not ready to trust the Congress. “Congress is the most untrustworthy party in India. It never does what it says,” says Mohd Risayuddin at Nai Ki Mandi in Agra. Qurban Ali is fed up with the BSP also. He says, “We had many expectations from BSP, but it also cheated us.” When asked whom will he vote this time he said, ‘It will be decided only a day before the polling.”
The major shift in political equations of Agra is that the upper caste voters who had mostly gone with the BSP in 2007 are also rallying around the BJP, which has also promised reservation to weaker sections of upper castes. This is the reason the BJP, which had won 2 seats, may double its tally. “We tried all—the Congress, SP and BSP—but got nothing. The way the Congress and SP are seen going to any extent to appease Muslims, we feel the state politics is going into the hands of Muslims,” fears Jagdish Gupta who runs a Kirana store in Shag Ganj area of Agra.
Though the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) managed to win Mathura Lok Sabha seat in 2009, it is not in a position to retain that support base. Trinmool Congress is heading towards opening its account from Mant constituency.
The equations in Baghpat, which is believed to be its stronghold, are also not encouraging for RLD. After an alliance with Congress, it is contesting all the 43 Jat dominated seats in Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautambuddha Nagar, Aligarh, Mathura, Bijnore and Jyotiba Phule Nagar. The alliance appears to have given a new life to the dying RLD. “Ajit Singh has lost the confidence of Jats. He always runs after power and does nothing for us. Without an alliance he cannot win even his own seat in Baghpat. That is why he always enters into an alliance with any of the big party,” says Ch Karamvir, a farmer in Baruat town of Muzaffarnagar. The issue of sugarcane prices is still hot in this region but no political party has assured the farmers on it, resulting in a section of the farmers is still undecided. “No party seems to be sincere and honest towards the problems of farmers. What is wrong in demanding fare prices for sugarcane when the sugar is being sold in the market at higher prices,” asked Ch Buddha Singh in Shamli, Muzaffarnagar.
Another setback for RLD is Anuradha Chaudhary, once close associate of Ajit Singh. Miffed at junior Chaudhary over ticket distribution, she joined the SP and is now campaigning in all Jat dominated districts against RLD. She has accused Ajit Singh of compromising the interests of farmers in exchange of a Cabinet berth at the Centre.
Western UP has more population of Muslims than the eastern region. They directly influence over half of the seats, about 73. At some of the seats they are more than 35 per cent, playing crucial role in the defeat or victory of the candidates. This is the reason the SP, BSP, Congress and RLD are all mad to bring them into their fold. Congress trapped former SP heavyweight Rashid Masood in Saharanpur, while the RLD presented notorious Haji Yaqoob Qureshi as its Muslim face. It is the same Qureshi, who had offered Rs 51 crore bounty for the head of Danish cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet. The RLD has also fielded its Rajya Sabah MP Mahmood A Madani in campaigning. It is the same Madani, who in July 2011 played a crucial role in the removal of Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi from the post of Darul Uloom’s Vice Chancellor following ‘praise’ of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. But none of these efforts seem to be benefiting these parties. “Promises don’t make the members of our community vote for any political party,” said Deputy VC of Darul Uloom Abdul Khaliq Madrasi in Deoband. “Majority of the Muslims are not going to be trapped in false promises of SP and Congress. They know the truth. These parties raise such issues in every election, but keep mum when it comes to implementing those promise,” added Smt Shahin Akhtar of Bijnore.
Primarily, the SP banked upon Azam Khan in Western UP, but following open clash between Rashid Masood and Azam Khan it managed the support of Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari. In exchange, the SP fielded Imam’s son-in-law, Umar Ali, from Behat constituency. But Omar’s fundamentalist image is forcing the non-Muslim voters of the constituency to mobilise against SP. “I have never seen a fundamentalist like Umar Ali. He hates the non-Muslims. This is what I got from his fiery speech delivered at a rally in Bubaka village recently. It is now I feel if a separate state is carved out from UP, as proposed by the BSP, the life of Hindus will be worse than the Kashmiri Pandits,” says Mahipal, a resident of Haripur village under Behat constituency.
The rising head of Islamic fundamentalism under the leadership of people like Tauqeer Raja has forced the Hindus to get united in Bareilly region. “We have not forgotten the riots and subsequent curfew in the town for almost a month during Holi in 2010. The region is emerging as a major centre of Islamic fundamentalism, which needs to be crushed with iron hand. It was basically this fundamentalism that forced the normally cool people like Varun Gandhi to issue strong statements,” says noted social activist Advocate Shyam Manohar Verma, a resident of Kirti Nagar in Bareilly.
In 2007, majority of the seats here had gone to BSP and SP and the BJP did not perform well due to Kalyan Singh factor. The Lodhs (Kurmis) who have strong presence in Amla, Bareilly and Pilibhit, have traditionally been the supporters of BJP. That is why after the entry of Uma Bharati into BJP they returned to BJP fold. As far as Kalyan Singh is concerned, he has fielded some candidates on the symbol of his Jan Kranti Party, but he is not in a position to win any seat.
Though castes seem to be dominating over development in entire Western Uttar Pradesh, feet deep potholes on roads all over the region force one to believe that ‘the elephant really ate poor man’s money’. Forget the approach roads in rural areas, the condition of national highways (for example Delhi-Saharanpur National Highway) is so poor that people prefer to take longer routes of Panipat and Meerut than driving on the highway. “The poor condition of roads has exposed both the Congress and the BSP. The BSP failed to even maintain the roads built during the NDA government while the poor condition of highways is the evidence that the Congress-led UPA government did not maintain the highways. During my padyatra I have seen the worst condition of roads in UP. Everybody who travels on those roads curse the BSP and Congress,” says senior BJP leader Sudhir Agrawal who undertook a 700 km padyatra from Lucknow to Delhi in November-December 2011.
The ruling BSP appears to be crumbling under its own elephantine weight all over the state. But the cycle too is not leading the SP to CM Secretariat. The recent statement of SP Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to support the Congress if he does not get majority in the state has confused his supporters also. By and large this election will be remembered for the mad race between Congress, SP, BSP and RLD to woo Muslims, crossing all limits and setting dangerous precedents. As usual the Congress leaders have communalised this election consciously and deliberately. Union Minister Shriprakash Jaiswal’s statement that President’s Rule may be imposed in the state if no party gets majority, also exposes the hidden agenda of the Congress in UP.