Akhilesh has done spectacular work”, says almost every person belonging to the Muslim community in the minority-rich Moradabad Rural, Moradabad City and Kanth—three out of the six constituencies in Moradabad district going to the polls on 15 February, During a visit to these seats on Wednesday The Sunday Guardian was told that the young Chief Minister had given them everything—free laptops, free cycles, money for marriage or higher education of girls in the family, and most importantly, a sense of security. This gives out the impression that UP’s ruling Samajwadi Party, after its phenomenal victory of 2012 in all the six seats in the district, will win hands down yet again. Yet, the 2017 UP election remains a mystery from the western belt, difficult to be unlocked by the Muslim vote alone, as many of the Muslim voters who talked to this newspaper in the aforementioned constituencies, said that their vote would be split between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP).
In the Kanth Assembly constituency, which starts as soon as one enters the main Moradabad city, Muslim sentiment is divided between the SP and the BSP. The villagers cited the “misgovernance and the inefficiency” of the Samajwadi Party ministers at the lower rungs of the administration.
“The work done by Akhilesh Yadav has been great, but SP’s other ministers and candidates are not even half as good. Ikram Qureshi from Moradabad Rural is one of the worst. The ministers are corrupt and they gobble our money. We get only four hours of electricity daily, there is no water and the women are unsafe,” said Shameer Ahmed of Mehlakpur village.
“The government under Mayawati was strict. Things got done if we paid money to her ministers. Ministers from the SP take money but do not do any work. My vote will be with the BSP this time,” said another villager from Mehlakpur, who did not want to be identified.
Muslims from Moradabad Rural, too, are divided. In the Muslim-majority Shahpur village, villagers said they would vote for Mohammed Kamran-ul Haq of Ajit Singh’s RLD. They said they were not happy with SP’s choice of fielding Haji Ikram Qureshi from the constituency.
“Ikram Qureshi doesn’t have a good record with the public. We wanted our legislator Kamran-ul Haq to get the ticket, for which we even sent a request to Akhilesh Yadav with the signatures of over 100 village heads. But that did not happen, and now we have no option but to vote for the RLD,” said a villager, adding that Akhilesh Yadav still had their complete support and they hoped that the RLD and the SP would join hands.
Kamran-ul Haq was denied ticket by the SP, after which the RLD fielded him from Moradabad Rural.
A reliable source, on the condition of anonymity, told The Sunday Guardian that Kamran had asked Muslims to vote for him as he would in the end “go with SP anyway”.
However, villagers of the Harthala in Moradabad Rural, said that Muslims would vote in overwhelming numbers for the cycle, the SP’s election symbol.
“We will vote for the SP with our eyes closed. Nobody has done as much for us as Akhilesh has,” said Mohammed Nizam.
A group of Muslim brassware workers from Asalatpura in Moradabad City too said that they were very happy with SP’s work and the party’s pro-poor schemes.
“SP has worked hard for us and to protect our interests. It’s as much about roads and highways as it is about laptops and money. Our vote has always gone to the SP, and it will this time too,” said Mashqoor.
Rajan Pandey, who has extensively reported on the Uttar Pradesh elections and has co-written Battleground UP: Politics in the land of Ram, said that while the SP is strong at the moment, it alone is not in a position to win all Muslim votes: “The BSP has not been able to get more than 20% of Muslim votes until now, but now they are aiming for 40% of the community’s votes. Their build-up has already begun. It remains to be seen if the SP is able to pull it off in the first phase. If it doesn’t, the Muslim vote will go to BSP because then, no one but the BSP will be in a position to defeat the BJP,” he said.
According to Mohammad Sajjad, Associate Professor, History, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU): “The lower-caste Muslims from the rural areas are naturally inclined towards the BSP. The SP has an advantage when it comes to the better-off, upper-caste Muslims, but the vulnerable group feels more protected with the BSP. ”
When asked, Babloo Saini, BSP’s candidate from Moradabad Rural, claimed that his party would get all the seats from Moradabad district: “As many as 70% of Muslims are already with the BSP. We have their back and we are doing what we can with all our heart. Overall, the fight is fifty-fifty—the first fifty is the BSP, the next fifty are the other parties.”
In Moradabad City, while the majority Muslims said they would go for the SP, a few of them said that they may even go for the BJP. According to them, BJP candidate Ritesh Gupta has a clean record and can implement “clean governance” in their constituency.
“The fight is directly between the SP and the BJP. The people here are looking for a candidate with a good record, and in that case, Ritesh Gupta is pretty clean. Akhilesh Yadav has done a great job, but at the same time we are open to see what the BJP offers us,” said a Muslim tea seller in the Asalatpura area of Moradabad City.
Prof Sajjad said that around 5% of the Muslim vote always goes to the BJP because of the candidate they field. He said that in cases like these, the candidates might have a great equation with the Muslims in terms of favours they provide them with.
According to Rajan Pandey, Muslims who gravitate towards the BJP are generally Shias. “But in Moradabad, they are in small numbers. If they go with the BJP this time, it would up the party’s chances by barely 1,000-2,000 votes,” he said.
As for how a Hindu, Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar of the BJP, won the Lok Sabha seat of Moradabad, in spite of all the MLAs being Muslims, Rajan Pandey said, “Moradabad has roughly 45-50% Muslims and the rest non-Muslims. In the Lok Sabha elections, the vote got divided into two and that’s how the BJP got an edge over the SP. Also, since there wasn’t a single Hindu MLA in Moradabad, the BJP mobilised the non-Muslim community to vote for it in 2014.”