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The Muslim Mood in Uttar Pradesh

In these troubled times for the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh, the community had to take some difficult decisions in the Lok Sabha elections. Disillusioned by all parties, the community may have in the end resorted to tactical voting to keep out the Bharatiya Janata Party, but the formation of two new Muslim parties indicates a strong desire to consolidate the votes of this minority group.


The Muslim Mood in Uttar Pradesh

Smita Gupta

though I was witness to an endless internal – in many cases, anguished – debate among members of the community and one, interestingly, cutting across class lines. So whether it was a young upwardly mobile management professional in L ucknow or a pathetically poor farmer in

In these troubled times for the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh, the community had to take some difficult decisions in the Lok Sabha elections. Disillusioned by all parties, the community may have in the end resorted to tactical voting to keep out the Bharatiya Janata Party, but the formation of two new Muslim parties indicates a strong desire to consolidate the votes of this minority group.

Smita Gupta ( is with Outlook magazine and is based in Delhi.

t was against a backdrop of terrorism, ever growing economic hardships and the faint unease associated with the possibility of a revival of communal tension that the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh (UP) found themselves making some tough choices in the just-concluded general elections. If indiscriminate police actions in terror cases have been on the rise, last year’s Batla House “encounter” (in which two young men from UP’s Azamgarh district were shot dead in New Delhi, after which several o thers from the area were arrested) acted as a flashpoint for the community. Mumbai 26/11 added to their woes, placing Muslims across the country under even greater strain.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s Sachar Report had already documented the abysmal socio-economic condition of the community but follow-up action has been tardy and sporadic. Worse, the global economic meltdown has meant that those who had escaped to greener pastures in the Gulf countries – professionals and semi-skilled alike – were now b eing forced to return in ever increasing numbers to seek employment in a shrinking job market, one in any case that had never been very hospitable to the community. Capping it all were the hate speeches made in Pilibhit by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) very own Gandhi – Varun – and the attempt by saffron outfits to capitalise on it through the election campaign.

Paucity of Choice

As I drove through a substantial swathe of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh ahead of the elections, it was evident that M uslims were disillusioned – in varying degrees – with all the secular parties in the state. Yet they seemed to be conscious of the need to vote in a party at the centre that could best serve the community’s i nterests – and, as some pointed out – in the nation’s interests. Indeed, it seemed as

may 16, 2009

Fatehpur, a wealthy carpet exporter in Bhadohi or a weaver living on the margins in a Varanasi ghetto, a college lecturer in Azamgarh or a daily wage earner in rural Phulpur, the thread that bound all the conversations together was the same – the paucity of political choice.

There is a certain despair in the community. The Samajwadi Party (SP) has just tied up with the hero of the demolition of Babri Masjid, Kalyan Singh. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Muslims have not forgotten, has been in a coalition arrangement with the BJP more than once. And the Congress, though there is great nostalgia for the party, does not yet look like a winner in UP: besides, the promise that the community saw in the Sachar Report’s official acknowledgement of its backwardness was not translated into proactive ameliorative steps for the welfare of the community.

“In the 60 years since Independence”, says Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firanghimahal, Naib Imam of Idgah, Lucknow, “no party paid attention to the legitimate d emands of the Muslims. For the first 40 years, Muslims just voted Congress, then they moved to the regional parties. They have tried every party. Now they realise that the secular parties used the Babri masjid issue and fear of the BJP to get votes.” But, he says, times have changed and the new generation thinks differently: “They are not as scared of the BJP [as the earlier generation] – they want education, jobs, development. Before independence 37% Muslims had government jobs – that figure is now 2%. The younger generation feels it is not getting a fair share in the resources of the nation, or in decision-making, they don’t want to be hostage to issues like Babri Masjid.”

Emergence of New Parties

A fallout of this despair has been the surfacing of two Muslim political parties, the Ulema Council (UC) and the Peace Party of

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India (PPI) in these elections, with the trigger being the “encounter” in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar at Batla House on 19 September 2008. The incident, which led to widespread anger in the Muslim community, could affect a few constituencies in eastern UP, specificially Azamgarh (the young men who died and those who were arrested later belong to this district) and nearby Khalilabad. If the approach adopted by the secular parties has been to work to prevent the BJP winning an election, the UC and PPI are in BSP mode; their aim is to consolidate the Muslim vote in the way the dalit vote was put together by the BSP, so that the community can then call the shots, negotiating with other communities and parties for political power. Clearly, in these elections, these parties are not going to win any seats – they can only act as spoilers. For instance, the more the UC’s Javed Akthar has polled in Azamgarh, the greater the possibility of the BJP’s R amakant Yadav defeating the sitting BSP candidate, Akbar “Dumpy” Ahmed.

Those who have floated these parties feel theirs is a legitimate endeavour: “We are not contesting to win or lose”, says Tasleem Ahmed Rehman, a medical d octor, who is a founder member of the UC and the party’s candidate from Jaunpur. “Our aim is to raise our voices against oppression and injustice in a secular country. We want to find out who stands with the victim and who stands with the oppressor,” he says, stressing that his is a secular party with both Muslim and Hindu candidates. But this endeavour is causing a great deal of concern among a majority of Muslims who feel that this will make them even more vulnerable.

Indeed, it is this strong feeling in the community – that the BJP should not in any way be strengthened – that led to the muted reaction to Varun Gandhi’s hate speeches in Pilibhit among Muslims. There was a feeling that if members of the community reacted on the streets, it would benefit the BJP. So while there is a deep sense of hurt among Muslims, they decided it would be best to remain silent. The r esult has been salutary: barring Pilibhit and a few constituencies in its vicinity, the speeches have made little impact in polarising votes – even though the BJP used him as a star campaigner in the second half of the elections after he was released on bail from Etah Jail.

Support for the SP

So, in these elections, after all the handwringing and the introspection, most Muslims chose between the SP, the BSP and the Congress. If over the last two decades, the SP had emerged as the preferred party of Muslims in UP, the creeping disenchantment with it – even within its own ranks – is growing. In the run-up to these elections, party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav struck an electoral deal with Kalyan Singh, who belongs to the backward Lodh Rajput community in the belief that this would consolidate his backward caste support and compensate for the party’s gradually diminishing Muslim vote. The results will bear out whether this was a smart move or not: for Mulayam Singh’s Muslim backing, even today, outstrips that of any other party in the state. Not to mention the fact that Muslims account for 18.5% of the population and can influence the r esult in 25 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP. The Lodhs, by contrast, number less than 3% and do not matter in more than six Lok Sabha seats: whether Kalyan Singh can bring in other OBC (Other Backward Classes) votes, as he did in his heyday, is something yet to be tested. Moreover, though the SP’s Muslim vote has slipped, it is still substantial. In the last three assembly elections in 1998, 2002 and 2007, a ccording to figures of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), s upport for the party among the Muslims went from 70% to 54% to 47%. On the other hand, in the Lok Sabha polls, support for the SP went up from 54% in 1999 to 61% in 2004.

Clearly, the electoral tie-up with Kalyan Singh has not gone down well in some sections of the community, despite efforts to portray it as an attempt to “weaken the BJP”. At the time of writing, this issue continued to be a talking point in the community. Party leader and one-time lieutenant Mohammad Azam Khan continued to raise the matter so that even last week, Mulayam Singh said publicly, “He (Khan) should have kept quiet and spoken to me if he had any grievances. The issue is damaging the party.” To which Khan’s retort was: “Humko bahar hi samjha jai” (I should be considered out of the party). B elatedly, Mulayam Singh sought the support of the Darul-Uloom in Deoband.

Switched Loyalties

Simultaneously, it has not gone unnoticed in the community that many of the SP’s most prominent Muslim Members of P arliament – Salim Sherwani, Mohammad Shahid Akhlaq, Shafiq-ur-rehman Burq, Shahid Siddiqui, Mukthar Ansari and Afzal Ansari – are no longer in the party: Sherwani is now a Congress candidate; Akhlaq has floated his own Secular Ekta Party and is giving the SP’s official candidate in Meerut a tough time. The last four are contesting on BSP tickets – and, as Muslims in eastern UP repeatedly point

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Economic & Political Weekly

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out, the Ansari brothers can influence Muslim voting in at least seven constituencies apart from the two they are contesting from (Varanasi and Ghazipur): these are Ballia, Mau, Azamgarh, Bhadohi, Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Chandauli.

How will all this affect the SP? The party’s Muslim vote share will certainly slip – but in this election it will probably still net the largest chunk of Muslim votes for two reasons. One, since most Muslims will still vote for the strongest non-BJP candidate who can defeat the BJP, the choice in a m ajority of constituencies will be between the SP and the BSP. Two, more importantly, in many pockets, such as in the Allahabad belt, the Muslims have an emotional a ttachment to Mulayam Singh. A group of Muslim youths sitting at their evening adda in Roshanbagh, which falls in the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat acknowledge that their idol has feet of clay but “Aasani se ham Mulaym Singh ko nahin chhodenge – qaum ke liyen who bahut kuch kiyen hain” (It won’t be easy to abandon M ulayam Singh – he’s done so much for the community).

BSP Number 2

In sharp contrast, state chief minister and BSP supremo Mayawati will never arouse this kind of deep affection among Muslims, but she will be the second largest beneficiary of their votes. Her Muslim vote has been steadily increasing. The BSP, a ccording to a CSDS survey, got just 5% of the community’s vote in the Lok Sabha polls of 1999, but doubled its share by 2004. Similarly, in the assembly elections of 2002, the party got 10% of the Muslim vote – rising to 17% by 2007. Of all the parties, it is the BSP which has given the largest number of tickets to Muslims – 14 – to the SP’s 11. This is important at a time when the community is keen to increase its presence in Parliament and its role in national decision-making. Two, her swift action against Varun Gandhi and her use of the National Security Act (NSA) against him has gone down well with the community. The SP and the Congress, of course, have tried hard to play this down, saying that the slapping of NSA was intended as a doubleedged weapon, intended to p olarise the votes along communal lines: it would help the BSP and the BJP get the Hindu votes.

And then, there is the Congress. Across the state, there is not just nostalgia for the party but a deep desire among Muslims to see another Congress-led UPA government at the centre, largely because it is the only secular party nationally strong enough to counter the BJP. The problem, of course, with that is that organisationally, the Congress remains weak in the state. But wherever the Congress is “in the fight”, it will get Muslim votes. Even in 2004, it got 14% of the Muslim votes, though down from the 27% it got in 1999.

Tactical Voting

Clearly, after the long debates – and the disillusionment – the community will r esort, by and large, to tactical voting – pressing the electronic voting machine button against the name of the strongest non-BJP candidate. But where the BJP is weak, there is no doubt that the Muslim votes will get divided. The danger signal comes from the two new Muslim political parties, the UC and the PPI. “In these elections”, warns Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer for the Babri masjid case, “these parties won’t amount to much. But the secular parties must heed the warning that comes from them. The feeling of isolation among Muslims is over. If these parties don’t pay attention to their genuine needs, both in terms of development and share in decision-making, the community will head towards a secular platform of its own.”


April 18, 2009

Medicine, State and Society –V Sujatha, Leena Abraham
‘Commercialising Traditional Medicine’: Ayurvedic Manufacturing in Kerala –M S Harilal
Can Maternity Services Open Up to the Indigenous Traditions of Midwifery? –Mira Sadgopal
Recovering from Psychosocial Traumas: The Place of Dargahs in Maharashtra –Bhargavi V Davar, Madhura Lohokare
Medicine as Culture: Indigenous Medicine in Cosmopolitan Mumbai –Leena Abraham
The Patient as a Knower: Principle and Practice in Siddha Medicine –V Sujatha

For copies write to: Circulation Manager, Economic and Political Weekly, 320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013.


may 16, 2009 vol xliv no 20

Economic & Political Weekly

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