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'In UP, Brahmins do tactical voting, not Muslims'

By Dr Abdul Waheed
Last updated on: May 02, 2009 10:25 IST
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Dr Abdul Waheed, reader in the department of sociology and social work at the Aligarh Muslim University, is an authority on socio-political issues related to the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh.

He has done his MPhil on 'The Phenomenon of Dowry among Muslims in India' and his PhD thesis was on the 'Social Structure and Economy of an Urban Muslim Community: A Case Study of Muslim Banjaras of Baheri, District Bareilly, UP.'

His two books -- Muslim Artisans, Craftsmen and Traders: Issues in Entrepreneurship and Muslims of Uttar Pradesh provides good reference material for serious studies.

In his gloomy office at AMU, Dr Waheed spoke to's Sheela Bhatt:

Uttar Pradesh has more than 3 crore (30 million)Muslims. That amounts for around 23 percent of Indian Muslims. According to the 2001 census, UP's population was 16 crore (160 million) and Muslims are 18.5 percent of the population.

In UP, according to the 2001 census, out of 70 districts (UP now has 71 districts) 21 districts have a sizable population of Muslims and are recognised by the government as districts having 'minority concentration'.

Ghaziabad, Meerut, Muzzafarnagar, Bijnore, Saharanpur, Moradabad, Rampur, Bareilly, Pilibhit, Bulandshahr, Badaon, Lucknow and Bahraich districts have more than 25 percent but not more than 50 percent Muslim population. Rampur has the highest concentration of Muslims in UP along with Bijnore and Moradabad.

I belong to Bareilly, so I have observed the politics of neighbouring areas like Rampur, Pilibhit and Moradabad quite closely.

Muslims of western UP are in a precarious position this election.


Because they believe that no secular party -- whether it is the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party or the Congress -- has done anything for them. They thought the Bharatiya Janata Party is their enemy party. Now, they are confused what to do? Whether to defeat the BJP or not? To do so, they are forced to vote for candidates and parties whom they don't like.

That is why I say the Muslim voters are in a very precarious position. They are not supporting any party or candidate of their choice. They are under compulsion and they know that the secular parties for whom they cast their votes have not done anything for them. But what is the choice? The BJP? They tend to think the BJP is the greater evil amongst these choices.

Invariably, Muslims are not voting for Muslim candidates either. In Bareilly district, Praveen Aron is the Congress candidate. Muslims are going to vote for Aron. The BSP candidate, Islam Sabir, is not confident of getting Muslim votes.

In Pilibhit, Maneka Gandhi was always supported by Muslims. Even in Sanjay Gandhi's time Muslims received the couple well. I don't know who provoked Varun to make those (anti-Muslim) statements. Sanjay and Maneka used to stay in (BSP MP) Akbar Ahmed 'Dumpy's farmhouse.

Muslims were shocked when their son Varun Gandhi made those statements. Neoriya Hussainpur town, which is located on the Pilibhit-Almora highway, has a 90 percent Muslim population. Maneka Gandhi used to get 90 percent of their votes. From the same town, Haiji Riyaz, an MLA, is contesting on a Samwajwadi Party ticket against Varun.

Riyaz belongs to the Banzara caste; it is a trading community who have 60,000 votes. After Varun Gandhi's speech many Banzaras will not vote for Riyaz. They realise if they vote for him, then Varun Gandhi will win the election so they are shifting their votes to the BSP or V M Singh of the Congress, whoever they think can defeat Varun.

Muslims think now no Hindu will cast their vote for the Samajwadi Party because of the communal polarisation brought in by Varun. The Samajwadi Party candidate is dependent on Muslim votes. Precisely for that reason Muslims don't find him good enough and winnable.

Yadav voters are few in this area so Riyaz can't bank on their votes. Pilibhit has got many Lodhs, so the BSP gave a ticket to Budhsen Varma. It seems that the division of Muslim votes between the BSP and Congress will help Varun win.

Muslim voters are intelligent; they know (Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister) Mayawati put Varun in jail to get their votes. No political logic will apply across the board in UP. BSP or no BSP, Muslims will not cast their votes for a candidate they feel will lose. Unless there is an issue like the Babri Masjid, Muslims do not vote en masse. Like Hindus they are also divided into castes.

If they think that the BJP will win a seat, generally, not specifically, they vote negatively. If they have a choice, then they may vote undivided.

I think the Brahmins of UP vote tactically, not Muslims.

Brahmins number 9 percent of Hindus in UP. They are more organised because they are literate, have been in power, are cautious and well-informed. Muslims in UP are illiterate and poor, they are difficult to organise. They are generally concentrated in ghettos where they actually compete with each other. Do you know that?

Their everyday life revolves within ghettos. In eastern UP there are many constituencies where Brahmins number around 20 percent or so. Mayawati's social engineering worked well there. Her formula works if she attracts Brahmin, Dalits and Muslim votes in her candidate's favour.

When Brahmin votes are present, her combination works better because Brahmins vote for Brahmins, but Muslims don't vote for Muslims candidates as a rule.

In this part of India religion comes second after caste. Caste is the most important factor amongst Muslims and Hindus during an election.

Rampur has the largest concentration of Muslims in UP, but they know that actress and current Samajwadi Party MP Jayaprada has done something for them. Congress candidate Noor Banoo's family has lived in Rampur since Independence, but her family has not done enough development work in the district.

Muslims have the lowest literacy rate of 33 percent in Rampur (the literacy rate of Muslims in UP is 48 percent).

Now, the view has gone around that the Samajwadi Party has collaborated with Kalyan Singh, the destroyer of the Babri mosque. So Muslims may not vote for Jayaprada despite having a soft corner for her. She is likely to lose the election due to the polarisation set in by Kalyan Singh joining the Samajwadi Party.

I think the Jats, Lodhs and Kurmis, the middle-class in UP, has been indoctrinated to a great extent by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Because of the Arya Samaj and BJP influence, their minds have changed. So, Mulayam Singh does not have control over the Yadavs as he did before. All Dalits will support Mayawati but not all Yadavs support Mulayam Singh.

No other caste, barring the Dalits, can be taken for granted.

I believe the highest number of seats in UP, in spite of incumbency, will go to Mayawati. The Samajwadi Party will come second. The Congress will get just 8 to 12 seats. Day by day, I see that a large population is indoctrinated by the RSS in the urban areas of UP. The BJP will increase its tally in UP. It will get anything between 15 to 20 seats.

The BJP has an alliance with Ajit Singh's party which has won so far because of Jat and Muslim votes. But in western UP, there is social tension between the Dalits and Jats. Muslims are not likely to back Ajit Singh this time because of his partnership with the BJP.

The scheduled castes and Muslims, who constitute almost 40 percent of the votes, will move towards the Congress or BSP here.

In UP, I don't see any uniform trend. In western UP, the Samajwadi Party will lose to the BSP -- Moradabad, Rampur, Pilibhit, Badaon and Bareily. The BSP and Congress are in a direct fight to win over Dalit and Muslim votes to contain the BJP.

The biggest problem with the Congress is that it is not a political party. It is a party of political bureaucrats, especially in case of Muslims. They never allow a Muslim leader to emerge from below. They impose Muslim leaders from above. Noor Banoo, Mohsina Kidwai and Salman Khurshid are Muslim leaders in UP who have been imposed from above.

Muslims are the football of three players, namely the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and the Congress.

Muslims want to cast positive votes, but where is the opportunity?

In the given circumstances, Muslims would like to vote for a winning candidate and not for one who will defeat the BJP, but since the Samajwadi Party, BSP and Congress are insensitive to their basic demands they don't have the option of positive voting.

Time and again it is proved that maulvis and madrassas are unable to influence Muslim votes. I can tell you that on most Indian issues there are vertical and horizontal divides amongst Muslims. It is a stereotype to say that Muslims are one bloc. Yes, some rare times emotional unity emerges. In 99 percent of events, caste, class and sectarian tensions keeps Indian Muslims divided.

To begin with, there is a deep divide between the Shia and Sunnis, Barelvis and Deobandis and then it goes on and on. Sufis are so different from others. Barelvis are popular people who validate the folk and devotional traditions of Islam. But amongst them saints like Shadi Mohammad Sheikh and Cha Madar have different followers. You call all of them merely Muslims.

Whenever some worthy leader tries to organise Muslims, the forces against him crop up to take the lot in another direction and the entire attempt fails.

What is more worrying is that in spite of the drop in the number of communal riots, we see that communalism has increased in our cities and towns. The RSS kind of idea of exclusion of Muslims is spreading. I think terrorism in Kashmir has affected the psyche of Hindus towards Muslims in India.

Indian Muslims understand that whatever is happening in Pakistan is not Islamic nor it is good for humanity. We believe that if the Taliban was not fighting with America then they would not have got any kind of support whatsoever in the Islamic world.

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Dr Abdul Waheed