The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Peace’ dilemma dogs Muslims

Aligarh, May 4: When the Jama Masjid appealed to Muslims last Friday to “vote for peace”, members of the community wondered what this cryptic message meant. Barring an occasional skirmish or two, Aligarh has been peaceful in the recent past. So much so, that during the last Ramazan the administration did not think it necessary to enforce a curfew.

Yasmin Painter, who issued the appeal on behalf of Imam Mufti Abdul Qayoom, who is out of the city, says: “It is incumbent on every Muslim to vote for peace because if there is violence, it is the poor who bear the brunt.” Muslims say since no party, including the BJP, openly preaches hatred and disharmony, the call from the mosque implied “vote according to your conscience”.

With a choice of three “secular” candidates from the Congress, Rashtriya Lok Dal-Samajwadi Party and the BSP, the community is confused and leaders predict that, as always, their votes will be divided. They are also certain that this will facilitate the return of the BJP’s Sheela Gautam for the fourth time.

So what are the imperatives before Muslims, who form 18 per cent of Aligarh’s 13 lakh electorate, next only to Dalits' It depends who is spoken to and which social class he represents. But the leitmotif was: “We do not want the BJP.”

Painter, who lives in a galli off Upper Kot, says: “Muslims will die but not want the BJP.” Businessman Mujahid Sherwani, who lives in the outer periphery of the Aligarh Muslim University, says: “We are clear we will not allow the BJP to come.”

But how' The community is at a loss to explain. Painter roots for the BSP, despite the fact that its chief, Mayavati, had campaigned for Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections. “The BSP came second in the 1999 elections and has three MLAs in the Aligarh Lok Sabha constituency. Besides, Muslims and Dalits together form 42 per cent of the electorate. This is a winning combination by any yardstick,” he explains.

Sherwani, on the other hand, goes for the Congress: “At the national level, the Congress alone can defeat the BJP. Ajit Singh (of the RLD) is fickle, he can go with anybody. Mayavati gets her people elected on an anti-BJP plank and then joins hands with the party.”

Noted historian Irfan Habib suggests that the Samajwadi Party should not be excluded as an option. Discounting the speculation of a Samajwadi Party-BJP bonhomie, he says: “Mulayam is the only leader who comes down heavily on rioters. Shortly after his government was formed a few months ago, the local MP (Sheela Gautam) and a former MLA were arrested under the NSA for allegedly instigating communal trouble. If the charge is that Mulayam retained Kesri Nath Tripathi (of the BJP) as the Assembly Speaker, the Congress had compromised with the BJP on the Lok Sabha Speaker and deputy Speaker posts. It’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

In Habib’s perception, post-Gujarat, the most important issue before Muslims was security or the lack of it. “That’s why the Mulayam government is so important for us. When Mayavati was the chief minister, incidents of the murder of Muslim Qureishis (butchers) in Aligarh went unreported but it provoked a 10-day strike for the community which was called off after she gave some assurances.”

Within the Aligarh Muslim University’s academic community itself there is a debate on the Muslim-BJP polemics although members say it will have little or no bearing on their electoral choice.

A physics professor, who did not wish to be named, felt it was “pointless” being dogmatic about the BJP and advocating its boycott. “The BJP represents the view of a large section of Indians and Muslims cannot shut their ears to it. The endeavour should be to engage in a debate with the BJP and search for a common meeting ground,” he says.

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