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Mulayam slides, Sonia climbs

Varanasi, April 24: If the Babri Masjid’s demolition redefined the political attitude of Muslims towards the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat is the other defining moment.

The BJP is going out of its way to court Muslims, the Samajwadi Party is trying to humour them, the Congress thinks it has regained their confidence and the Bahujan Samaj Party is hoping its Dalit base and penchant for putting up Muslim candidates will attract the community’s votes.

Muslims, after all, account for 16 per cent of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh and have made all the difference between victory and defeat in the past. So how are Muslims inclined in these elections'

Interactions with a cross-section of people — including community leaders, party activists, businessmen and artisans — indicated three basic changes between 1999 and now. First, Muslims are no longer that enamoured of the Samajwadi, which was their first choice since 1993. Second, the Congress has been embraced again with considerable enthusiasm. Third, the BSP is as much of an anathema as the BJP.

What is the community’s problem with its former icon, Mulayam Singh Yadav'

“We are convinced that but for the BJP’s backing, his government would not have come into being,” said Mohammad Riaz, a bangle-seller in Faizabad.

“He did not ask Kesri Nath Tripathi (BJP) to quit the Speaker’s post (after the fall of the BSP-BJP government). In his affidavit on the Babri demolition to the Supreme Court, he maintained that no party was responsible for it. Later, under pressure, he amended it a little but still didn’t name the BJP.”

The litany of grouses continued. “Mulayam,” Riaz added, “put certain most backward castes like the Nishads in the list of Scheduled Castes. Why did he not include Muslim sub-castes like the Maniyas and Tahkiyadars'”

Politically observant Muslims also noted that the chief minister did not pay his ritualistic visit to Lucknow’s Idgah mosque during the last Id nor did he host an iftar.

An aide of the chief minister explained why he changed his “strategy”. “These were conscious decisions because such occasions only help the so-called community leaders who are forever seeking state patronage. Mulayam Singh is concerned about improving the lot of other Muslims.”

He pointed out that the Samajwadi’s election manifesto had promised to create a separate peacekeeping force of Muslims in the Uttar Pradesh police — a move Mulayam Singh had initiated in 1994 but was struck down by Allahabad High Court.

The manifesto also spoke of modernising madarsa education and propagating the use of Urdu.

Commenting on the Muslim-Mulayam Singh equation, Jehangir Alam, a Varanasi lawyer and member of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, said that after the Babri demolition, Muslims were “equidistant” from the BJP and the Congress.

“One brought down the structure and the other remained a mute spectator. We have got over our anger towards the Congress. Now we will keep equidistance from the BJP and the BSP because Mayavati campaigned for Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections. The killing and rape of Muslims there was as traumatic, if not more, than the demolition for us because the cost in terms of lives was much more.”

As for the Congress, Alam said the anger is slowly converting to sympathy. “We are for Sonia Gandhi because she never defended the demolition.”

However, for tactical reasons, in these elections Muslims have decided to vote either for the Samajwadi or the Congress, depending on which can defeat the BJP.

Babri Action Committee convener Zafaryab Jilani explained: “The sympathy for the Congress has not turned into friendship. Neither have we grown so distant from Mulayam as to make him lose. Our first priority is to see the BJP is out because it is unimaginable what they will do to us if they return to power.”

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