This Article is From Feb 09, 2022

Blog: Dangerous For Akhilesh Yadav To Assume This About Muslims

Aligarh. A major centre of learning. Home to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The city of locks.

A common joke at the university here is that those locks were used to keep the university locked during Covid.

As our election travels brought us to Aligarh, we explored what it would take for parties to unlock Muslim votes.

At the university, we spoke to teachers and students to try and see what really is on the minds of the voters here, particularly Muslims.

"In an era of majority consolidation, are you confident of learning about the mood of minorities?" quipped Professor Sajjad, who teaches history at the university.

It was a loaded question.

However, our limited objective at this point was to understand what the residents of Aligarh, particularly the Muslim community, are thinking this election. It's an important question at a time the BJP's campaign has been deeply polarising.

Muslims seem to welcome farm leader Rakesh Tikait's assertion that west UP will not fall for a Hindu-Muslim trap. At the same time, they doubt his credentials, given his history of openly supporting the BJP earlier.

Their bigger disappointment is with the so-called champions of the Muslim cause - the Samajwadi Party. SP leaders, in this election, have tried to steer clear of any Hindu-Muslim discourse. They don't want this to become a match on the BJP's pitch.

But is there a thin line between avoiding a conversation and ignoring a community?

While some residents, teachers and students find this a welcome change, others fear the political isolation of Muslims - even a Samajwadi party choosing to ignore the polarising narrative and leaving Muslims to fend for themselves.

Ahmad Mujtaba, an Assistant Professor of Geography, raises a very fundamental question. "In all these years, we have not matured as an electorate. We aren't mature enough to know what elections should be fought on and what should be the issues. This is why you see various polarising fault lines emerge again and again," Dr Mujtaba says.

"While BJP is no favourite for us, the Samajwadi party must not automatically assume all votes will go to them. I frankly feel that the Enemy Number One for Muslims have been the so-called secular parties," says a student union leader.

Aligarh city has a sizeable Muslim population. In some wards, they form the majority too. But the district is divided into seven assembly constituencies. While the Muslim voters are a significant number, they do not form a majority in any of these seven constituencies.

In 2017, the caste calculations and the general mood of the state showed its impact on Aligarh as well. The BJP won all seven assembly constituencies. Many AMU teachers feel there is a definite possibility that the BJP was able to achieve this number with the support of a few voters from the minority community as well.

"The biggest mistake that all political parties make is to assume that Muslims are a monolith. That they would vote like a bloc in favour of a political party. Just like Hindus where there are divisions along caste lines and voting patterns decided accordingly, Muslims too vote the same way," says Professor Moibul Haque of the AMU Political Science department.

There is also an interesting conversation around 80 versus 20. Almost all those we speak to feel that the moment any political party starts to consolidate 80 per cent of the population, the remaining 20 per cent will always find itself neglected, and not needed politically anymore.

"Look at Akhilesh Yadav in this entire election. He has not spoken even once in favour of Muslims. We have a feeling that while the BJP is practising hard Hindutva, the likes of the Congress and Akhilesh Yadav are practising soft Hindutva. They probably feel speaking in favour of Muslims is going to damage their voting prospects among the majority," another student leader says.

Students feel their community has only been used as a political pawn, with no real development for them, stuck between the BJP's Hindutva on one hand, and political isolation by the "so-called secular" parties on the other.

There is some resentment and anger against the Samajwadi Party for not fielding a Muslim candidate from parts of Muzaffarnagar.

"If you are not going to field Muslims from a Muslim majority area, then what respect to the community are you talking about?" students ask.

The views of students and teachers in Aligarh are actually an eye-opener.

It seems that Muslims blindly supporting the Samajwadi Party could end up being a dangerous political assumption for Akhilesh Yadav.

If the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh feel a little ignored by the Samajwadi party and angered by the BJP, what are their options? Mayawati, Priyanka Gandhi or AIMIM's Asaduddin Owaisi?

The attack on Owaisi and the silence of the Samajwadi Party is also questioned by students. Owaisi's 5-MLA success in the Bihar 2020 election has been keenly noted here.

Is this just anger against the SP or a sort of a warning from those who will eventually vote for the party?

The warning is clear. Don't assume we are a monolith.

(Sanket Upadhyay is Executive Editor, NDTV)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.