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Kanpur Muslims split over Mulayam

Nistula Hebbar in Kanpur | May 05, 2004 18:03 IST

To see the fractured Muslim vote that the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are fighting over in Uttar Pradesh one does not have to go further than Kanpur.

The constituency, which elected Subhasini Ali (Communist Party of India-Marxist) in 1989, and Shriprakash Jaiswal (Congress) in 1999, this time sees a three-cornered contest between the Congress, the SP and the BJP.

The reason for the triangle is the fractured Muslim vote. In the last election, Muslim voters summarily dismissed S L Gupta of the SP in favour of Jaiswal. However, this time the SP candidate is Haji Mushtaqe Solanki, popular with a Robinhood image. This has confused the voter somewhat.

Of the 1.45 million voters, Muslims account for 17% and Brahmins 15%.

"At one time Mulayam Singh Yadav was popular in Kanpur and the SP capitalised on that. But when it was seen that the SP was not pulling its weight at the Centre, Muslims decided to vote tactically for the Congress," says Rajiv Verma, a Congress worker.

This time round Solanki's popularity has split the community down the middle. "We know there are a few Muslims, especially doctors and other professionals, in the city who want to vote for the Congress, while the poorer Muslims are with us," said R Siddiqui, Kanpur SP unit secretary.

"We want a party that will maintain the peace," said Naeem Hamid, a member of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board.

But BJP candidate Satya-dev Pachauri is waiting to play spoiler, "We feel that in this race for the Muslim vote, we have a chance of pulling all the Hindu vote," he said. Or, as Siddiqui suggests, the Muslim vote could be split between Jaiswal and Pachauri, both Brahmins.

In all this Subhasini Ali's campaign remained low key. Mill workers are dismissive of their former MP. "The mills shut down in the Congressraj, the BJP sold them off when they came to power, while no one did anything for workers," said an out of work mill worker.

A boomtown gone bust, Kanpur has a violent past and a split polity. An accurate portrait of what happens when you mix politics, religion and poverty.

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