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UP polls: Religion and voting patterns in Meerut
Harmeet Shah Singh in Meerut | April 12, 2007 10:22 IST
Full-page advertisements in newspapers in Meerut show pictures of a candidate who last year triggered a nationwide furore by offering a reward of Rs 51 crore to anyone who would kill any of the European cartoonists who drew the blasphemous images of Prophet Mohammed.
Yaqoob Qureshi, a former Haj minister of Uttar Pradesh, aims to unseat the Bharatiya Janata Party in Meerut, a predominantly Muslim constituency, as the United Democratic Front candidate.
His campaign advertisements also carry pictures of former prime minister V P Singh, Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan and Jan Morcha leader Raj Babbar.
A staunch critic of Western powers, especially the United States, Qureshi declares freedom fighter Hakimuddin as his role model.
His main rival is the BJP, a party that called for his arrest and dismissal as state minister after he placed a bounty on the European cartoonists during a rally in Meerut in 2006.
Meerut, the scene of severe strife between Hindus and Muslims from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, has not witnessed any major incident of sectarian strife for over a decade. It will go to the polls on April 13.
Flush with new high-rise shopping complexes and apartments, it has seen a boom in construction business over the past few decades.
Also, it has become the country's largest manufacturer of musical instruments and is one of the largest suppliers of sports goods, especially its famous cricket gear.
Many of its young IT graduates work for top companies around the world.
But voting patterns in Meerut, whether it is the cantonment or the city borough, are believed to be closely tied to religion.
BJP candidate Laxmikant Vajpayee, who is seeking to retain the Meerut city seat, says Hindutva and nationalism will dwarf casteism in this constituency.
Qureshi too insists caste is no factor in Meerut, and claims the reputation of candidates outweighs other factors.
BJP supporters admit that a division in Muslim votes led to the success of their candidate in previous elections, in which several parties fielded Muslims to woo the community.
This time too, the Samajwadi Party has put up Dilshad Munna and the Rashtriya Lok Dal has Bundu Khan, both Muslims, as their candidates.
The Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party have named Vaishs as their candidates.
Both the BJP and Congress are using crime as a major campaign issue in Meerut, where they allege offences against women have been on the rise over the past few years.
The BJP, a fierce critic of the ruling Samajwadi Party, accuses the state government of bias in dealing with suspects belonging to a particular community.
Exactly a year ago, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav faced angry crowds in Meerut during his visit after a devastating fire at a trade fair that killed over 50 people.
He was forced to cut short his visit after crowds blocked his car and shouted slogans against him and the government.
"There is no anti-incumbency factor for the BJP. It applies to the SP," claimed senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj after she paid homage to the victims of last year's fire.