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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT
Unhappy with SP, BSP, Milli Council pleads Muslims for tactical voting
By P M Damodaran

Lucknow: The All India Milli Council (AIMC) has stepped in to check the division of votes among the minority community in the coming Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. But the task remains a difficult one because of the sharp division among the non-BJP secular parties.

The AIMC has decided to appeal to the community members to go in for tactical voting, as it did in the last parliamentary and Assembly elections in U.P., in the Lok Sabha polls in the state to stop the NDA from coming back to power at the centre. The Council feels that the results of the elections in the state will be of paramount importance in deciding as to who will rule at the centre as U.P. sends 80 members (out of a total strength of 543) to the Lok Sabha. In the last two Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state, the Council had asked the community to support the candidates of the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Congress who were in the best position to defeat the nominees of the BJP in their respective constituencies.

The Council members are not happy with the stubborn attitude of the Samajwadi Party leadership in not forging an alliance with the Congress. They had already expressed their unhappiness in public. In fact, the Council members are disturbed over the reports of a cosy relationship between the leaders of the NDA and the Samajwadi Party. They feel that the Mulayam Singh Yadav government was surviving with the tacit support of the BJP, and the Samajwadi Party was “positioning itself for a post-poll alliance with the NDA” as claimed by the Defence Minister Mr. George Fernandes. But the Samajwadi Party with its widespread influence to defeat the BJP may still be favoured by the Council in a large number of constituencies. 

The AIMC has already constituted 13 zonal committees to conduct surveys of all 80 Lok Sabha and the Assembly constituencies in U.P. to find out the commitment of the candidates, contesting the polls, to secularism. On the basis of results of the surveys, the Council will decide and announce its support to candidates in all the 80 constituencies who can defeat the BJP nominees. 
The AIMC has given enough hints that the Muslims are not in favour of supporting the nominees of the BSP. The Council sources pointed out that the BSP had joined hands with the BJP in U.P. to form the government several times. It is angry with the BSP for joining hands with the BJP to form a coalition government in the state after the last Assembly elections in 2002 despite the fact that its leader, Ms. Mayawati, had given an undertaking to it that her party would not have any truck with the lotus party after the polls. On the basis of this undertaking, the Council had supported many BSP nominees, who were in a position to defeat the BJP candidates, and many of them came out victorious. 

The Council now apprehends that the BSP may support the BJP-led NDA at the Centre in the post-elections scenario if the latter fails to get an absolute majority. The community leaders now apparently want to teach the BSP a lesson for hobnobbing with the BJP. Yet the AIMC may extend support to a few BSP nominees purely on merit. The BSP has, however, tried to appease the Council and the Muslim community by nominating 17 Muslim nominees to contest the coming polls as against 11 Muslim candidates fielded by the Samajwadi Party. But it may not cut much ice. In tune with this stand, the AIMC did not invite the representatives of the BSP for talks to form a united secular front. Among the political parties who were invited for talks included the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Janata Dal (Secular), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), left parties and the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan. 

With the BSP out of favour of the Council, the tactical voting by the Muslims may now limit to the Samajwadi Party and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. It felt that a Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance should have been a powerful enough force to defeat the BJP at the hustings. But the failure of the two parties to forge an alliance has put a spoke in the attempts of the Council to consolidate the secular votes against communalism.

The Council members are not happy with the stubborn attitude of the Samajwadi Party leadership in not forging an alliance with the Congress. They had already expressed their unhappiness in public. In fact, the Council members are disturbed over the reports of a cosy relationship between the leaders of the NDA and the Samajwadi Party. They feel that the Mulayam Singh Yadav government was surviving with the tacit support of the BJP, and the Samajwadi Party was “positioning itself for a post-poll alliance with the NDA” as claimed by the Defence Minister George Fernandes. But the Samajwadi Party with its widespread influence to defeat the BJP may still be favoured by the Council in a large number of constituencies. 

On the other hand, the AIMC is of the view that the Congress will be given another chance after the decade of bad blood following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 to redeem its commitment to secularism. The Council, which works through the network of madarsas, shahar qazis and imams in mosques, has appreciated the sincerity of the Congress in forging a secular front to defeat the BJP. The Congress has thus emerged as a viable alternative in the scheme of things of the Council, particularly in the context that it, and not any other party, can challenge communalism at the national level. The AIMC has also noted that the Congress has included nearly half of its demands in its national manifesto. However, some other Muslim organisations like the All India Muslim Samaj, which has a leaning towards the Samajwadi Party, have criticised the Council’s pro-Congress stand. 

The AIMC believes that the BJP should have been defeated in the Assembly elections in Gujarat in 2002 had the secular parties like the Congress, the NCP and the Samajwadi Party joined hands to fight the polls. It feels that the secular parties can check the progress of the BJP if they forged an alliance against the latter in states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which send 210 members to the Lok Sabha. In U.P., the role of the minority community is important in 34 Lok Sabha and 130 Assembly constituencies where the Muslim voters accounted more than 20 per cent of the total electorate.
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