It’s Muslim Vs Muslim Out Here…
By Saba Naqvi
The Political Dynamic
Hot pursuit of Muslim votes by non-BJP parties created divisions in seats with large minority populations in the 2014 General Elections.
In some instances, the BJP just had to sit back and watch the minority candidates fight it out.
In seats with smaller Muslim populations, there was greater cohesion around one non-BJP candidate.
Many conservative elements from the Muslim community were also in the electoral theatre.
It’s not fear but competing local interests that often determine the way Muslims vote in parts of UP.
“Madam, don’t trust the Muslims, they will tell you one thing, vote the other way,” Kailash, who runs a small tile shop on Moradabad’s busy Prince Road, leading to the Jama Masjid, tells me. He also publishes a small newsletter which has got him a press ID which he uses to move in town when there is a curfew or red alert. “A small fight or tussle, and there is curfew here,” he says, but adding on reflection that Hindu and Muslims don’t fight “that much”. They do business together, but “we are completely separate”. And yes, the demographics of Moradabad are such that “the Muslims have had their way” but now Kailash is actively working for the BJP. His younger brother Hari Om nods in agreement, offers a cup of tea and says that he loves cricket and Crime Patrol on TV. He also loves Narendra Modi.
Moradabad has a 46 percent Muslim population and has never been won by the BJP. It is currently held by Mohammad Azharuddin of the Congress. It is quite natural, therefore, to assume that it is just the sort of seat where the minority community would unite in the face of a Modi campaign. Actually, however, the opposite happened. Partly because it is in seats where their numbers are huge that Muslims have no palpable sense of fear but a belief (perhaps false) that if push comes to shove they can give as good as they get! Indeed, one can even argue that it is in seats where Muslims are fewer in numbers that they would try to attach themselves to a winning anti-BJP candidate. In Moradabad, though, where Hindus and Muslims live in their separate worlds, the psychology is different. Just a day before polling, there was no clarity about which way the Muslim vote would go. As a local Urdu journalist put it, “The fear of Modi is only in the activist class and some thinking people. The average Muslim is under the influence of competing interests. Hence their votes will be divided.”
This division is also the result of the almost surreal pursuit of the Muslim vote by the non-BJP parties. In Moradabad and neighbouring Rampur (49 percent Muslim electorate), all the other significant parties—SP, BSP and Congress—have put up Muslim candidates. In both places, there seemed to be greater competition to come a nose ahead of the fellow Muslim than to defeat the BJP. In Rampur, there was the old class feud between the royal family and SP’s Azam Khan, who saw himself as the common man’s leader. In Moradabad, a theatre of sorts played out in a little ghetto in the heart of the town where the SP and BSP candidates have addressed many rallies targeting only Muslims.
The BSP candidate here was Haji Yaqub Qureshi, a wealthy meat trader from Meerut who had publicly announced a Rs 51 crore reward for the head of the Danish cartoonist who drew an image of the Prophet in 2006. The Haji fits the stereotype of the intolerant and conservative Muslim who would be part of what Modi has called the “pink revolution” (promotion of slaughterhouses and meat exports). He actually quite revels in the image and said that “my reward for the head of the cartoonist still stands”. Along the way, before he arrived in Moradabad, he also made some derogatory remarks about the Sikh community in Meerut from where he’s been MLA, was briefly suspended by the BSP but is now in full form for Election 2014. “I am a kattarvadi for my community but not against Hindus,” he says. “Modi is a haiwan (monster) who gets people killed.”
The Haji goes to lengths to explain the picture that has appeared in a local daily showing him bending his head before Mayawati, an act that can be termed un-Islamic. “I only bow my head before Allah,” he says. “Mayawati is just giving me her blessings. But look what the SP candidate has done. There are pictures of S.T. Hasan attending a havan and wearing a tilak. That is certainly against Islam.” These are the sort of fulminations that the self-appointed guardians of the Muslim community are engaged in. Both sides are distributing pamphlets of the other candidate engaging in un-Islamic activity. Yes, every now and then they do remember to target Modi.
A former mayor of Moradabad, the SP’s Hasan holds nukkad rallied at night in the city centre: “When I was a child, people said Gabbar Singh is coming. Now they say Modi is coming. How can Modi protect anyone when he can’t look after his wife….” SP vehicles moving through the town blare lines from that old Hindi film song: “Tu na Hindu banega na Musalman banega/Insaan ki aulad hai/insaan banega (Neither Hindu nor Muslim/you will be a human being).” But the truth is that the party has lost the vote of all other communities in this seat and is banking on Muslims alone, for whom they are still the favoured party. In spite of the Muzaffarnagar riots, there is still a very strong vocal section that sees the SP as “our party”. Says Riyazuddin, a shopkeeper near the Jama Masjid: “If anyone gives Muslims rights, they’ll be called gunda party. That’s just how the media thinks.”
Meanwhile, for all of the Haji’s proclamations about being a purist Muslim, liquor was distributed in the BSP office. A worker says that it was intended to keep the Dalits happy as “Haji is campaigning mostly among Muslims”. But the fallout of this is visible in the Mustafabad Dalit basti which has about 1,400 voters. Some of the young Dalits say they like Modi’s image and “why not try him as he has come up the hard way”. Old-timers remain loyal to the BSP but admit that some of the younger voters are straining to vote BJP in the Lok Sabha election because they do not like the local candidate taking them for granted. An argument breaks out between young men on bikes till Banwarilal, a former pradhan, puts an end to it: “They are all talking nonsense. No Muslim troubles us as much as Jats, Rajputs and Brahmins. What were we before Babasaheb and Behenji?” Even the youngsters qualify that in an assembly election they’d vote BSP, but may give Modi a shot this time.
The competition between SP and BSP for the Muslim vote was so fierce in Moradabad that Congress’s Noor Bano does not figure in any serious calculation. But her son, the Rampur nawab Kazim Ali, known locally as Naved Miyan, is locked in a huge contest in the neighbouring seat with the SP candidate who is seen as a proxy for the state urban development minister Azam Khan. The Columbia University-educated nawab rests against one of his impeccable sofas in his palace, sips a Coke, looks quite unflustered and says “the fight here is with Azam Khan who is a sadist and a little mentally ill. He has destroyed the industry and heritage of this town. He wanted to pull down the fort as he claimed it blocked sunlight.” Victory or defeat, the nawab has his inheritance and other interesting plans. There’s even an offer to act in a utv movie “whose details I do not want to reveal”. Certainly, the nawab does have the chocolatey good looks of a hero, and looks younger than his 54 years.
Azam Khan himself has no movie career to look forward to though he is great at theatre of a certain sort. He makes much of being banned from speaking at public rallies after his rhetoric that said Muslims won the Kargil war for India. He hands out a CD that shows RLD leader Ajit Singh making an even stronger statement about Muslims sacrificing their lives during the war. “I will not accept the stigma of being called an anti-national terrorist. Those who call us gaddars must prove it….” The rhetoric is thunderous and is no doubt intended to both perpetuate and feed off a sense of Muslim victimhood. Indeed, many residents say it’s working and Azam has won sympathy from the local population for being silenced by the EC. “What is wrong in talking of Muslim contribution to the nation?” they ask.
Does Azam Khan not think that the SP has created the conditions for the rise of the BJP in UP, with so many riots and intemperate utterances? “What can we do before the fascists? We fought for this country. Our intent is always good, they are after us to prove we are anti-national because we do a few things for Muslims. This country would not have been partitioned if it were not for the false secularism of the Congress.” Then he delivers a little nugget: “Joshi’s murli has been left in Varanasi and Uma Bharti came to me because she wanted to join the SP.” Why does he get into controversy over everything, including his buffaloes? “What a sad fate for my buffaloes…. Modi is jealous because I am the owner of buffaloes and not a charanewala (grazer). Zulm pe zulm hai (injustice on injustice).”
In all this flow of words, what was clear was that in some seats the battle was between the “secular” candidates and their focus was not really on defeating Modi. The BJP candidate in Rampur was the inconsequential 80-year-old Nepal Singh, who kept away from the fireworks between the Nawab and the Strongman. He’s somehow hoped this could be the second time in its history when the BJP could claim the seat that has such a strong association with north Indian Muslim culture. Certainly, most Hindus are united in favour of the BJP and intend to show no voter apathy this time. Nepal Singh hasn’t even bothered to campaign among Muslims.
A somewhat different Hindu-Muslim dynamic exists in Bareilly that has been won by the BJP’s Santosh Gangwar six times since 1989. The Congress’s Praveen Aron won in 2009 but he was very much an underdog against Gangwar this time. “The media has been bought off and has created the conditions for this election,” says Aron. But the equations here too are determined to some extent by Hindu vs Muslim mobilisations. Bareilly has a smaller Muslim population of about 30 percent of the electorate but it’s significant as the headquarters of the Bareilly School of Islam. Indeed, with the competing Deoband seminary not too far away in Saharanpur district, in this swathe of western UP, the maulanas are sought by all political parties. And some of them do have the clout to make a small section of the Muslim community vote in a particular way. Among them is Maulana Tauqeer Reza Khan, from the family that controls the Bareilly silsila. The narrow lanes leading to the Dargah Allah Hazrat are packed with devotees, bystanders and shopkeepers, many of whom say they’ll vote the way the maulana indicates.
The Maulana had in 2009 issued an appeal for Aron and is believed to have contributed to his victory. But they fell out in 2010 when there were riots followed by three months of curfew in Bareilly. Now the Maulana is backing the BSP candidate and former vice-chancellor Umesh Gautam, because he argues that a Brahmin can cut into the BJP’s upper-caste vote, get the Dalits because of its BSP base, while he would try and deliver a chunk of the Muslim votes. The maulana positions himself as a “moderate” and says that the kind of speeches made by Akbaruddin Owaisi in Hyderabad or even Yaqub Qureshi in neighbouring Moradabad, damage the community and add to the power of the BJP. “We are looking for a non-BJP, non-Congress political alternative. Let me tell you that Muslims are so angry with the Congress that if Modi had not been the PM candidate many would have supported the BJP also.” Does he think maulanas should dabble in politics? “We did not take part in politics in the way the Deobandis did. But we have been forced to enter now as they were not doing things properly.”
Clearly in the many Muslim ghettoes of western UP, the competition was between nawab and commoner, meat-packer and professional, Deobandi and Barelvi. Modi was certainly there in the backdrop but he is not the only issue at play. There was a buzz at the BJP office in Moradabad, where after years the party thought it had a chance. And not only because the young voters had been galvanised and 10,000 gathered at the Ramlila ground to hear a 3-D rally by Modi. Also because “the Muslims are fighting among themselves”. Gopal Anjam, the BJP coordinator for the seat, says, “It’s SP vs the BSP; we just have to sit back and mobilise our own voters.”
Humayun Qadir, a former mayor of Moradabad from the SP, says that “every election here is about both Hindus and Muslims getting their numbers together, and one side wins. Last time Azharuddin united the Muslim votes. This time there is some division that we hope will end.” But that may not happen when people are not driven by an overwhelming fear of Modi. They have also dealt with the BJP before. They have heard so much about what Modi can do to them that they have developed a certain kind of immunity. As two young men seated outside Dargah Allah Hazrat in Bareilly put it, “What is there for us to be afraid of? We are used to living under curfew. This time there was curfew throughout Ramzan after a scuffle with Kavadias who passed a mosque during namaz and raised slogans. What can Modi do to us now? Muzaffarnagar is over, madam. They organise riots when they want to come to power, not when they are in power. You don’t worry please. We will be just fine.”