At least three of the four major players plus a newly-formed political outfit are clearly eying the 19 percent Muslim vote that may determine the destiny of India’s most populous state of 200 million people.
Until a few months back, it seemed that a good chunk of Muslims were tilting towards the Congress, thanks mainly to Rahul Gandhi’s tours of the state. But with the Congress losing credibility on account of poor governance issues and its flip-flop on issues of minority development, the Muslim vote seems to be up for grabs again.
Many saw Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party as the natural choice for the community, which had for long reposed its faith in the party, until he shook hands with one-time Hindutva strongman Kalyan Singh, better known as the Babri Masjid demolition man.
Over the past two years, Mulayam moved heaven and earth to wash off that ‘sin’ of aligning with Kalyan. He even got his estranged Muslim face Azam Khan back in the party to re-establish credibility with Muslims.
But would Mayawati let go the chance to grab the Muslim vote?
She wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking job quota for Muslims. Mayawati’s letter was sent late at night, hours before central minister Salman Khurshid disclosed that the government was working out a policy for providing reservation to Muslims.
Then came the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) announcement of a 4.5 percent reservation for Muslims.
The Congress now found itself in a tight spot. While the new policy evoked appreciation from a section of Muslims, it annoyed a larger section of OBCs who would lose 4.5 percent of the 27 percent quota earmarked for them.
“The Congress-led UPA is making a fool of Muslims by offering 4.5 percent quota when the community deserves much more. It is a cheap election stunt,” roared Mulayam Singh.
To top it all, even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the Congress, BSP and Samajwadi Party of taking Muslims for a ride.
BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi claimed: “Muslims have better representation in government jobs in BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh where it has risen by 11 percent. But is has slid by 42 percent in UP, during the regimes of Mulayam Singh and Mayawati.”
Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s campaign to label the Anna Hazare movement “RSS sponsored” was part of the party’s design to keep Muslims on its side. ‘Diggy Raja’, as Singh is addressed, has tried to impress upon all and sundry that his charge against Team Anna was not baseless. He not only wanted to discredit Anna but also wean away Muslims from the anti-corruption crusader.
Playing spoilsport is the Peace Party. Founded by 56-year-old surgeon Mohammad Ayub as a political outfit of Muslims, for Muslims and by Muslims, it soon decided to induct Hindus too.
Even as Ayub objects to Peace Party being termed a Muslim party, he makes no bones about admitting that he was inspired by none other than Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram.
“I admire Kanshi Ram for starting from scratch to build a strong political base for the well-being of Dalits. Today they have incorporated upper caste Brahmins too with them.”
Ironically, the Peace Party founder, who earlier faced the accusation of receiving funds from the BJP, is now charged with pro-BSP links. It is said the Peace Party’s gameplan is to not only dent the Muslim votebank of Mulayam Singh but to wean away a chunk of the Muslim vote that may switch to the Congress.
After all, it is division of the Muslim vote that could give the BSP the edge that Mayawati is desperately eyeing.