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Aligarh: Herculean task in a crowded race
Harmeet Shah Singh in Aligarh | April 11, 2007 11:56 IST
Though many issues, including development and infrastructure, are on the agenda, politics in this predominantly Muslim constituency hinges largely on who plays the religion factor better.
Candidates belonging to incumbent Congress and rival Samajwadi Party hope their rapport with the minority community will be their selling point.
With the electorate appearing more polarised than before, hardliners too offer alternatives to Muslim voters in a bid to cut into the support of the Congress and the Samajwadi Party.
In the fray is UDF candidate and former MLA Mohammad Khalik, a loyalist of former state minister Yaqoob Qureshi, who last year triggered a furore by offering a Rs 51-crore reward for the beheading of European cartoonists behind the blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Mohammad.
Sitting legislator Vivek Bansal is working overtime to retain the seat, fighting on two fronts against Zamirullah Khan of Samajwadi Party and Khalik as far as winning Muslim support is concerned.
The BJP, which holds the mayoral seat in Aligarh, is trying to galvanize Hindu support with a high-pitched campaign against the Congress and Samajwadi Party's pro-minority programmes.
The BJP has fielded Sanjeev Raja, a Vaish who faults Bansal for concentrating on vote-bank politics rather than development.
In its attempt to garner the support of the Vaish community along with its traditional vote-block among disadvantaged groups, Mayawati's BSP too has fielded a Vaish, Gopal Narain.
But activists of all parties in the contest note that religion is a key factor in elections in Aligarh, topping concerns over development, dilapidated roads, poor sanitation and pollution.
Clashes have broken out in Aligarh on a number of occasions over the past five years. Many people lost their lives in violence in such disputes and during protests called by members of different communities.
The row over the Aligarh Muslim University's minority designation has furthered the polarisation.
In the last mayoral elections, Muslims are believed to have rejected the Congress candidate over allegations of the nominee's links with the RSS, paving the way for the BJP to retain the seat.
The BJP, which won the Aligarh city assembly seat in 1989 and retained it in 1992, hopes the fierce race between the Congress and Samajwadi Party this time will help it win.
But in Aligarh, Muslims clerics play a dominant role in elections as their advice regarding who the community should vote for rarely goes unheeded.