Muslim voters in the Old City in Lucknow know the decisive value of their votes, but are wary that their votes are divided, and that, they fear, will only help Narendra Modi.
Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com speaks to Muslim voters in the land of tehzeeb and gauges their apprehensions about a Modi sarkar.
"Aap ka isme girami? (What is your name?)"
"Aap ka shugal? (What is your occupation?)"
These are not questions a journalist encounters every day.
Almost everyone in the Old City in Lucknow eyes you suspiciously if you ask political questions, specially ones related to Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate.
Although the city of Nawabs has a cosmopolitan feel today, there are pockets in the Old City where one senses the charm of the past.
The "pehle aap" (you first, sir) culture is evident as you stroll around, and many feel proud of retaining the Lucknowi tehzeeb.
One also comes across monuments of the Nawab era in these areas, including the tombs of the legendary Urdu poets Mir Taqi Mir and Khwaja Mir Dard, lying in a dilapidated condition.
A common grouse you hear is, "Asar-e-Qadima kuch karti hi nahi inke baare mein (the Archaeological Survey of India is not interested in restoring them)."
This may be the past of Lucknow, but today, in this part of the city, every Muslim voter knows the value of her/his vote. They know their vote will be very decisive to defeat Modi.
"The trouble with Muslims is that we have four choices to defeat Modi -- the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), SP (Samajwadi Party), the Congress and now the Aam Aadmi Party. But Modi's vote is not divided," says Mohammad Adeeb, a student at the Academy of Mass Communication, Urdu Centre.
Accompanied by three friends, Adeeb says, "The four of us don't agree on backing one party because we have different views. So how can Muslims all over the country unite and fight against Modi?"
Muslims in the Old City know for sure that anti-Modi Muslim votes will be split all over India and that is a big advantage for Modi.
Asked if they do not believe that Modi will bring development to the country as he is said to have done in Gujarat, Adeeb's friend Niyaz Ahmed intervenes, "I am from Champaran in Bihar. Nitish Kumar (the Bihar chief minister) has brought so much development to Champaran, but nobody talks about it. Why only talk about Modi?"
"We only had 4 hours of electricity in my village 10 years ago," adds Ahmed, "now there is 18 hours of electricity and still nobody talks about the Bihar model of development. I feel there is some conspiracy in the media as they only talk of Modi developing Gujarat."
"Modi will develop India for sure," adds Mohammad Zia, "but he will divide India permanently with his communal policies."
Muslims in the Old City are unwilling to forgive Modi's 'inaction' during the Gujarat carnage of 2002.
"Look at Sabir Ali from Bihar. No Muslim leader in India's history has been humiliated so badly as him. When you give entry to some Muslim leader in your party, then you must not humiliate him in such a manner," says Ahmed. "It was very shameful and Modiji did not do anything when Sabir Ali was sacked from the party within 24 hours. When the BJP does such things and Modi keeps quiet, then how can Muslims trust Modi?"
Last month, Sabir Ali resigned from the Janata Dal-United in Bihar and joined the BJP. After senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi objected to his presence in the party, Sabir Ali was denied membership of the BJP.
"If you take the history of the BJP, there was only one leader -- Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- who was secular. The rest of them including (L K) Advani just have a communal agenda," pitches in Badar Ali.
Asked if it is true that Muslims fear Narendra Modi, Badar Ali declares, "Muslims only fear Allah and not Narendra Modi. Who is Narendra Modi? It is Allah who protects us and it is only He who will take care of Muslims."
A passerby who refuses to give his name adds, "The BJP talks about development, but the reality of Uttar Pradesh politics is that people only vote out of fear or for sympathy. Development is never an issue in Uttar Pradesh politics. Mayawati developed the state very well in her tenure, but still she lost because the other castes got together with the Muslims to bring the Samajwadi Party to power."
Says businessman Vakil Ahmed Khan, "The BJP got 57 seats from UP in the 1998 parliamentary election. That happened because of the Ram Mandir wave and because Vajpayee's popularity was at its peak."
"Some opinion polls say the BJP will get more than 57 seats in 2014. I don't think that is possible. If that happens," adds Khan, "Narendra Modi will become bigger than Lord Ram and Vajpayee."
Adds his friend Syed Mohammad Iqbal, "The BSP is out of the picture for Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati is keeping a very low profile in this election. So Muslims will only vote for the Congress or SP."
When asked if Muslims will stand by the Samajwadi Party in spite of last year's Muzaffarnagar riots, where the Samajwadi Party government failed them badly, Iqbal says, "Mistakes do happen, but the SP is still very much a pro-Muslim party. Under the SP government it is not easy for the police to file false case against Muslims as it used to happen under other governments."
Mohammad Anees, another businessman, feels, "The Muzaffarnagar riots happened so suddenly that the administration could not act in time and therefore things went out of control. One cannot blame (UP Chief Minister) Akhilesh (Yadav) for failing the Muslims, it was the bureaucracy that failed him badly."
"The Muslims of Uttar Pradesh have made up their mind," says Khan. "It is either the SP or the Congress. Whoever has the strongest candidate to take on the BJP, Muslims will vote for that party. And no way will there be a Modi sarkar in 2014."
Image used for representational purposes only. Photograph: Anindito Chatterjee/Reuters