The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Muslims seethe at Arif switchover to BJP

Bahraich (Uttar Pradesh), March 7: A strong undercurrent of disbelief and disgust is sweeping through this overwhelmingly Muslim-dominated constituency since Arif Mohammad Khan, a leader with secular credentials who represented the constituency for more than three terms, joined the BJP.

“(It was) as if a nightmare began in the Muslim world when Arif Mohammad Khan quit the Bahujan Samaj Party to join the BJP,” said Maulavi Siddique Baba, who runs the Quadiri Madarsa in Darga Sharief of this small town bordering Nepal.

After serving the constituency between 1984 and 1998, Arif lost to the BJP here in 1999. After the defeat, he rarely visited his former constituents. Now, he is coming back, but for the BJP.

“Arif cannot get Muslim votes for the BJP but, if he campaigns, he will certainly help in splitting the Muslim votes further to help the BJP,” said Mohammad Iasin, a teacher of a local madarsa. Therein lies the anger and betrayal Bahraich feels.

Across the state Muslims are feeling let down by the leaders they once adored. First came Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s flirtation with the BJP, triggering ripples of resentment.

“We still have some weakness for Mulayam Singh Yadav, but we have a warning for him, too, on his BJP leanings,” said Siddique Baba. The second parliamentary constituency in this district, Kesharganj, has always stood by Samajwadi candidates.

Then came the departure of Rashid Alvi from the BSP. Alvi had served as a redeeming factor for the BSP as the party’s leader Mayavati evoked strong disdain in the community for allying with the BJP in 2002.

Another factor confusing voters is the fielding of Muslim candidates in almost all the western districts — and those with at least 30 per cent Muslim votes in the east and centre — by the parties, said Enamul Haque, pradhan of Barkhurdwarpur village near Kesharganj, a block where Muslim voters account for over 40 per cent of the electorate.

The BSP has fielded Muslims in all the 19 seats of western Uttar Pradesh, except Agra. Mayavati is out to prove that a “classy leader like Rashid Alvi did not matter”, said a party worker.

The Samajwadi is trying to match the BSP’s feat. In Bahraich, the BSP has put up Shabbir Ahmed while the Samajwadi seems inclined to field Dr Walker Ahmed.

There are 28 parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh where Muslim voters play a crucial role and, hence, politicians will do their best to polarise voters.

“As far as Muslims are concerned, this would end up being a three-cornered contest with Mayavati, Mulayam and the BJP locking horns while it should have been a fight between a broad socialist alliance led by the Congress and the BJP.

“I wonder why cannot the three parties — the BSP, Samajwadi and the Congress — come together when the BJP’s alliance with 27 parties could run the country for full five years,” said Abdul Barkat Nazmi, convener of the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee.

In this scenario, cracks in the Muslim votebank seem inevitable, say community leaders. And they are painfully aware that this would only help the BJP.

“There is no alternative, but tactical voting,” said Wakis Ali, who heads a dargah here.

“Tactical voting is a last minute decision to vote for a candidate whom the community perceives as not inimical to them yet stands a chance to win,” explained a local leader, adding that it allows for irregular voting. Votes get split and often work in favour of unwanted candidates, he rued.

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