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Periscope
UP Elections & Muslims
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Elections to the 403-member State Assembly of Uttar Pradesh are likely to serve as a barometer for the political climate of the country. With UP’s population equivalent to 166 million and the state sending 80 members to the Lok Sabha, results of the assembly polls can have a major influence on politics at the centre. Loss of power in UP is expected to have a devastating impact on BJP’s hold at the centre.

Not surprisingly, certain moves by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Chief Minister Rajnath Singh in UP have been strongly related to preparing ground for the assembly polls in the state. Prime Minister Vajpayee in a cabinet reshuffle included a Vaishya in the union cabinet and elevated a Muslim to the cabinet rank. It was calculated to redress a major grievance of Muslims that the NDA government at the centre did not have a Muslim minister of cabinet rank. It was part of a ploy to win the votes of Vaishya community and Muslims in UP. The Indo-Pak summit was deliberately held in UP as a part of BJP’s image-improvement exercise. 

To win votes of backward castes, solidly behind Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh, Chief Minister Singh divided the quota for other backward castes (OBCs) into two parts-- non-Yadav and other OBCs. Bureaucratic transfers and frequent press conference for announcement of populist measures supplemented such moves. The present ruling combination of Bhartiya Janata Party & Allies has exploited every possible ruse for continuing in power.

All 102 members of Samajwadi Party, resigned their seats on September 11, 2001, in protest against the failure of Chief Minister Singh’s government. Mulayam Singh Yadav had been planning the card ever since the ghastly murder of his party member, the dacoit queen Phoolan Devi. 

Samajwadi Party painted the murder as a political murder. The suspicion was well grounded. The murder was seen as vindication of the honour of Thakurs. In February 1981, Phoolan, at Behmai, a village near Kanpur, gunned down 22 Thakurs (high caste Hindus). After assassination of Phoolan Devi, there was rejoicing in the village. On the occasion of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, lamps were lit there, 22 years after the carnage. 

However, the dramatic resignation by Mulayam Singh and his colleagues of Samajwadi Party (SP) on September 11, did not have the desired political impact. It was overshadowed by the tragic terrorist attack on World Trade Centre and Pentagon in USA on September 11. 

The petty caste politics of UP was drowned in the emotional outpourings after Black September Tuesday.

According to Mulayam Singh Yadav, the state government failed on law and order front. It indulged in corruption and enhanced criminalization of politics also. The allegation was justified. The ruling coalition included a few ministers with tainted criminal background. Mulayam Singh further blamed Singh Government for atrocities on Samajwadi workers and its incompetence in handling the flood and drought in eastern UP. 

The September 11 resignation-move was not unexpected. The political parties, in race for political power in the largest and politically most important state, had been taking moves for early elections. The opposition’s demand rested on the argument that the Singh Government’s term had come to end in October last. The Assembly was bound for dissolution. Fresh elections were due. However, the ruling combination thought otherwise. It was their contention that their term continued till March 2002. March had a special significance for BJP and Allies. It was connected with the plans of Vishwa Hindu Parishad for construction of Ram temple at the disputed site from March 12. The original plan of Bhartiya Janata Party was to contest UP elections on the plank of the Ramjanmbhoomi temple construction issue. 

One part of the gameplan of BJP and Allies has proceeded on the expected lines. The elections to the State Assembly of Uttar Pradesh are scheduled for February 2002, just prior to March 2002.

In the Hindi belt of the country, particularly among the majority community caste is an important political factor. For creating and stabilizing their place in the majority community, Bhartiya Janata Party and its mentor Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) have been communalizing politics of the country by injecting the element of religion in their functioning. 

The entire Ramjanmbhoomi Temple versus Babari Mosque campaign was calculated to capitalize on Hindu-Muslim rift carefully nursed by British rulers, for maintaining power and supremacy. They have raised the bogey of ‘atrocities’ of Muslim rulers in medieval period and threat to the country from Pakistan carved out from undivided India in 1947. Continuation of Kashmir dispute has persistently vitiated relations between the two states. Hindu extremists have exploited that too. 

Through a period of time, RSS has sponsored a number of affiliated organizations to infiltrate into every sphere of life. Bhartiya Janata Party is its main political front. Muslims have sensed the rise of a major communal party of the majority community as a major threat to their religious and cultural identity. 

The gradual rise of Bhartiya Janata Party to a position of dominance has actualized their fears. Currently, in the political coalition at the Centre, nicknamed as National Democratic Alliance (NDA), important portfolios like Home, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Development of Human Resources (formerly Education) and Information & Broadcasting etc., are held by members of Bhartiya Janata Party with RSS affiliation.

Luckily for secular democracy in India, the BJP did not secure a clear majority in the Lok Sabha and similar was the case in the State Assembly of Uttar Pradesh. For staying in power, they have to lean heavily on their coalition partners; a few among them do not share their ‘secret’ communal agenda. However, their support helps BJP in pushing forward its effort to ‘saffronize’ education. 
The limitations of the Common Minimum Programme, the meeting ground of the coalition partners have not inhibited the Saffron Brigade from pursuing their anti-Muslim bias. Apart from saffronizing the school textbooks, they have managed to create an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion about Muslims. Their main targets are Islamic educational institutions imparting religious education. They have been portrayed as breeding ground of militancy and terrorism. The favourite theme of media affiliated to the Saffron Brigade continues to be ‘Islamic terrorism’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’.

If Muslims have to survive, progress and flourish in India, the atmosphere has to be changed. A beginning has to be made from the elections to the State Assembly of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from their shameless tirade against Muslims, the unprecedented misgovernance by the State Government is a great liability for them. That is too heavy a burden for them to carry through the ensuing elections. They do not have a credible agenda or programme to entice voters.

In these circumstances, it should not be difficult to unseat the present government. To overcome their serious handicaps, they hope to rely on misuse of official machinery, communal feelings and manipulation of the electoral process. 

Muslims in liaison with secular colleagues have to ensure that there is no spit in anti-BJP vote. The Saffron Brigade must not be allowed to carry out its nefarious designs. 

Earlier, Muslims have resorted to tactical voting for defeating BJP candidates with considerable success. Once again they have to return to that strategy with dexterity and discretion. They should not be misguided by Muslim names of candidates. They should ensure their support for the candidate who has the best chance of succeeding against BJP. Muslims cannot move ahead in isolation. In league with genuine secular elements, they shall check the onward march of Saffron Brigade. They should do that with self-reliance and determination. They can do that.
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