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Muslim role in UP elections
By P M Damodaran

Lucknow: Muslims had been voting en bloc in favour of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh till the 1989 elections. This had been one of the major factors helping the Congress win the polls. But after the Ayodhya incident, the minority community distanced itself from the Congress and switched its loyalty towards the Samajwadi Party led by Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav. This has helped the Samajwadi Party to become a major political force in U.P. But in the coming Assembly elections, The Samajwadi Party cannot take the support of the Muslims for granted.

The Samajwadi Party's hold on Muslims has losened during the past couple of years. This was evident in the results of the Lok Sabha elections in 1999 when a section of the minority community apparently voted in favour of the candidates fielded by the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Congress. This time the split in the Muslim votes may be greater because the BSP and the Congress have fielded more candidates belonging to the minority community to wean away its support from the Samajwadi Party. The BSP and the Congress have put up 85 and 67 Muslim candidates respectively as against 55 fielded by the Samajwadi Party.

The split in the Muslim votes, which the leaders of the community apprehend, may go in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Muslim leaders and intelligentsia are thus chalking out a strategy to avoid a split in the votes of the minority community and to ensure the defeat of the BJP candidates in the polls. According to the strategy, the Muslim masses will be told to vote in favour of the opposition candidates who have the best chance of defeating the BJP nominees. The Muslim leaders have authorised the Milli Council to ascertain the chances of the opposition candidates in every constituency in the state so that they can pool their resources against the BJP. The Milli Council has already undertaken the task.

The general view among the Muslim leaders is to give preference to the Samajwadi Party candidates because of the party's support to the cause of the minority community during the Ram Temple movement by the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Last preference has been given to the BSP nominees as the Muslims are still apprehensive that the party might not hesitate to join hands with the BJP to rule the state once again after the elections as it had done twice earlier. 

There may not be problems for the minority community to vote in favour of the Muslim candidates if there is only one such candidate in the field. If there are two or more Muslim candidates in the field, the minority community will have to indulge in strategic voting to defeat the BJP nominees. On the other hand, the minority community will have to vote in favour of the most favoured Hindu or other community candidates among the opposition nominees if there is no Muslim candidate in the field. There is no Muslim candidate in the field in over 200 out of 403 seats.

Doubts, however, exist over the efficacy of the tactical voting by the Muslims. Muslims had adopted this strategy during the last Lok Sabha elections in 1999 but it met with only a limited success due to the presence of one or more influential Muslim candidates in several constituencies. To confuse the situation further, some Muslim parties like Momin Congress, All India Muslim Forum, Awami Party, Muslim League Kerala State Committee and Indian Union Muslim League have also fielded their own candidates in some seats. 

Meanwhile, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have come out with lavish promises to the Minority community to win its support. The Samajwadi Party has virtually promised moon to the Muslims. In its election manifesto, it has announced a seven-point action plan for the welfare of the minorities. The action plan included withdrawal of cases against Muslims, reservation in educational institutions and government services for the minority community, setting up of a world Urdu Centre in the state, minority commission for madrasas and creation of minority development ministry. 

On the other hand, the Congress in its election manifesto has assured the Muslims that if voted to power, its government would provide proportionate representation to the community in jobs in Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and to make Urdu as the second official language in the state. The PAC is known for its strong anti-Muslim leanings. The Congress has also assured the community that it will repeal the controversial Religious Bill, which had attracted widespread condemnation from the Muslim leaders and the opposition, if it is voted to power in the state. The Congress manifesto has reiterated its commitment to abide by the court verdict or a negotiated settlement in the Ayodhya dispute. 

For the BJP, the Ram Temple issue has ceased to be an electoral plank. The Ayodhya issue had appeared only at the end of the party's election manifesto. The saffron party, which had been chanting that the Ram temple would be constructed at the disputed site, has changed its tune now and has preferred a settlement to the dispute through court or negotiations! Not unexpectedly, it has nominated only one Muslim nominee in its list of 319 candidates. Like in the earlier elections, the BJP is unlikely to get substantial number of votes from the Muslims. The BSP is not in the habit of issuing election manifestoes but the party had given the maximum numbers of seats to the Muslims in the candidates' list to win their support.

The role of the minority community is crucial in the coming elections because it may tilt the results in a large number of constituencies. The Muslim voters accounted for more than 20 per cent in nearly 160 constituencies. Among those constituencies where the Muslim voters exceeded 30 per cent are Nagina, Bijnore, Chandpur, Dhampur, Amroha, Hasanpur, Kunderki, Moradabad, Swar Tanda, Rampur, Bilaspur, Shahabad, Bahjoi, Bareilly cantonment, Kaimganj, Aligarh, Khatauli, Muzaffarnagar, Chartwal, Kairana, Thana Bhawan, Saharanpur and Meerut. According to Milli Council, the BJP had won 44 out of 115 seats in the last Assembly elections due to split in Muslim votes. The margin of victory for the BJP candidates in them was less than 10,000 votes. 

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