`Strategic voting’ by the Muslim community has long been discussed and has become a pattern over past decade, since the time BJP became a prime contender for power at the centre and in the states.
The run up to Uttar Pradesh assembly elections is seeing a major change – strategic voting by the Muslim community is a thing of past, it’s time to make a strategic shift. A pattern has clearly begun to unfold in Western UP, which goes to the polls on 10 February, and is all set to be followed in the rest of the state.
Traveling to parts of Western UP and talking to people from the community in Ghaziabad, Loni, Bhagpat, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Sharanpur and Amroha more than clearly indicated the clarity of thought and purpose of the strategic shift that is undergoing in these high-stakes, politically critical elections in the state.
The community no longer intends to just vote for the candidate of a party—say either SP, BSP, AIMIM or Congress—who could challenge the BJP candidate in respective constituencies; rather, the community has broadly aligned with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and its alliance partners and would vote (barring stray percentage) for what they say is the “Samajwadi Gathbandhan”.
This voter behaviour may not be Uttar Pradesh’s novelty though. It was conceived and successfully put to practice in West Bengal elections last year, when nearly all the minority community votes went to Mamata Banerjee.
Left Front parties and Congress, despite a great deal of sound and fury made by ISF chief Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, an influential cleric of the shrine of Furfura Sharif, were left to bite dust at the hustings. Siddiqui was dumped by the vert social segment whom he claimed to represent with elan.
In Amroha, which has a sizeable Muslim population, Hasan Shuja, editor of a Urdu daily with large circulation, Sahafat and Awam-e-Hind, says “this time Muslim votes are going to be concentrated towards Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and his ally RLD. Unlike previous occasions where in districts like these (Amroha) and some other places where Muslim votes were split between candidates of other parties like SP, BSP or the Congress, this time there is no confusion among the voters of the community – vote for SP and its Gathabandhan, here and all across UP. There is near total consolidation. You can call it a West Bengal effect.”
Shuja had another point to make, in lessons for the BJP: “There is no denying the fact that there had been fair and equitable distribution of DBT under centrally sponsored welfare schemes, or the housing schemes, or toilets, electricity connections, or the free ration that is being liberally distributed now. If the BJP puts forward some better faces in its outreach to the community and engages them with regular dialogue process it will have potential to rule the country for many decades to come. After all, how long Muslim community and strongest national political party (BJP) of the day can be in an inimical position”.
In UP, the Muslim population is about 20 per cent, with districts like Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Moradabad, Amroha and Rampur having over 40 per cent of Muslim population.
There is another interesting aspect – as compared to previous elections the number of Muslim candidates fielded by the SP (so far) has gone down. But that’s not a problem. That is said to be part of a well thought out process.
So far, the pattern in Amroha for the SP was to give Muslim candidates in three out of four constituencies in the district. But that has not happened in this election.
In Muzaffarnagar too, the majority of the candidates of SP in six assembly segments used to be Muslims but not in these elections. This is unprecedented, but not a problem. The community is not grudging either. Instead, it is being called “good electoral strategy.”
Imran Masood (of boti-boti infamy), a popular Muslim leader in Saharanpur, who recently switched over from Congress to SP was denied a ticket. His supporters are now saying that he would contest the parliamentary election and never wanted an assembly ticket in the first place. Influential leaders like Qadil Rana and Amir Alam too were ignored in Muzaffarnagar.
Shahnaz Haider, an advocate, narrated how Javed Abidi, a close lieutenant of Akhilesh Yadav, who fought two elections from Naugawan Sadat in Amroha, was denied ticket and was replaced by Kamal Akhtar, the former MLA of Hasanpur. But soon after making this announcement, even Akhtar was replaced as the Naugawan Sadat candidate and the party said that Samarpal Singh would be given the ticket.
Akhtar was sent to a constituency in Moradabad. Something like this, a Hindu candidate by SP in a Muslim-dominated constituency, hadn’t happened before.
As one travelled across the districts, supportive voices from varied strata of Muslim community for Samajawadi Party and RLD as the sole preference against BJP kept coming. Rahman, a car mechanic in Badaut said “SP and Gathbandhan is the only choice. Akhilesh Yadav ko mukhyamantri banana hai (Akhilesh Yadav needs to become CM)”.
Similar feelings were echoed by Haji Usman in Bhagpat, and Arshad Faridi, a farmer in Shamli, and by Rana Altaf, a trader in Saharanpur. The list could go on.
The community elders have also tried to ensure that “no one from within makes provocative statements or reacts aggressively to any provocations”. They are conscious that their overt aggression might result in aggressive polarisation or reverse polarisation from the other side.
Some draw a parallel of Muslim consolidation in UP election with West Bengal election. But they forget that dynamics of each election is different and Akhilesh Yadav is no Mamata Banerjee, at least not yet.
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