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U.P. Muslim voters are confused
By P.M. Damodaran, Lucknow

The minority community is a confused lot and is in a dilemma over the support it may extend to the political parties in the next month's assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. In several constituencies, there is a multiplicity of Muslim candidates fielded by the opposition parties to make the choice difficult for the minority community to whom they vote for. But what has upset the poll equation more is the fielding of a very large number of Muslim candidates by the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The BSP has fielded Muslim candidates in 86 (out of 403) seats, almost double the number of nominees belonging to the minority community fielded by the Samajwadi Party, in an apparent attempt to wean away a section of the society from the latter. This effort is; however, unlikely to succeed as the BSP had lost its credibility among the Muslims after it joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party twice during the past one decade to share power. The BSP has to explain its conduct a lot to the minority community to regain its trust. 

This action of the BSP has, however, put the Samajwadi Party a little shaky. The Samajwadi Party, which is considered as the saviour of the minority community after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in1992, has given poor representation to the Muslims in its list of candidates as compared to the two major opposition parties, the BSP and the Congress. The Muslim community is apparently annoyed with the Samajwadi Party over this. A glaring example is the situation in Allahabad and two neighbouring districts of Pratapgarh and Kausambi. The party had not put up any Muslim candidates in 11 seats in Allahabad and in the two other districts. The Samajwadi Party leadership is facing the ire of the Muslims in these districts. In Lucknow, the BSP has put up three Muslims as its nominees whereas the Samajwadi Party has not put any Muslim candidates.

The Samajwadi Party President, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, is aware of the situation. At the public meetings, Mr. Yadav has lashed out at the BSP for fielding a large number of Muslims (and backwards) with the sole aim of upsetting the caste equations and to spoil the chances of his party. He alleged that this was done by the BSP to help the BJP. 

The Congress has also put up more number of Muslim candidates than the Samajwadi Party. There were 48 Muslim nominees in its first list of 304 candidates released by the Congress. In the wake of Babri Masjid demolition, the Congress had lost its support base among the Muslims. But it has regained the support from the minority community a bit at the expense of the Samajwadi Party over the past couple of years, as the latter could not sustain its clout among the Muslims. Mr. Yadav's spewing venom at the Congress had only helped it gain more acceptability among the Muslims. Moreover, in U.P., the minority community yearns for some kind of understanding between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party in the elections to check the march of the saffron brigade as it feels that the latter alone could not achieve this aim. 

But the Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and the Samajwadi Party chief have ruled out any alliance between the two parties. Yet it seems that the Samajwadi Party has put up 'weak' candidates in a few seats, particularly in Avadh region and in western U.P. to help the Congress nominees.

Many other opposition parties have also given good representation to the minority community in their candidates' list. The Rashtriya Kranti Party of the former Chief Minister, Mr. Kalyan, who took pride in the demolition of Babri Masjid during his regime, has fielded eight Muslims in its first list of 308 candidates! So is the case with Apna Dal. However expectedly, the ruling BJP has fielded only one Muslim nominee, Mr. Ghaffar Khan in Tilhaur in Shahjahanpur district, in its list of 318 candidates. 

The minority community may find it difficult to choose a nominee if there is more than one Muslim candidate in the field. Such an eventuality may go in favour of the BJP. The minority community may not be averse to support a candidate from another community, inspite of the presence of a Muslim nominee in the field, if it finds that he or she can defeat a BJP aspirant. The recent surveys have revealed that hardly three per cent of the Muslims favoured the ruling party and there is a strong anti-BJP feeling among the community. 

During the last Lok Sabha elections in 1999, some Muslim organisations attempted to mobilise the Muslim votes to a single secular candidate in a bid to defeat the BJP nominees. But the efforts met with only partial success. Some organisations like the All India Milli Council are now planning to adopt it in the coming elections to strengthen the hands of the secular forces. But the experiment is unlikely to succeed, as it will be very difficult to know for the Muslims who are the most powerful candidate in the field to defeat the nominees of the Sangh Parivar. 

For obvious reasons, the Milli Council is also reluctant to give any leverage to the BSP though the party had nominated the maximum number of Muslim nominees in the list to contest the coming elections. In fact, the Council in alliance with some other organisations, have released a white paper drawing the attention of the people to the government's failure in all fields and its apathy towards the minorities. On the other hand, three Muslim organisations -- the Momin Conference, the Indian Muslim Political Conference and the All India Muslim Forum -- have forged a secular alliance to fight the elections. The front has decided to field candidates in nearly 100 seats.

The minority community nearly accounted for 15 per cent of about 10 crore voters in the state. The Muslim votes are crucial in at least 100 seats.

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