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Rediff.com  » News » Varanasi's Muslims: Split between neta and ajooba

Varanasi's Muslims: Split between neta and ajooba

May 09, 2014 10:47 IST

'Muslims in Varanasi have been shown that they are now irrelevant'

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Anita Katyal/Rediff.com

Although Muslims in Varanasi are clearly disconcerted by Narendra Modi's Hindutva agenda and are fearful of the future, they believe his emergence on the national political stage will not disturb the famous 'Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb'

Anita Katyal/Rediff.com taps into the Muslim sentiment in Varanasi.

Even as Narendra Modi appears likely to win the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, there is palpable apprehension among Muslims in the city who are not sure what the Gujarat strongman's victory will mean for them.

Although Muslims vociferously exclaim that Modi's ascendancy on the national stage will not destroy Varanasi's composite culture, there is an underlying fear about a possible Hindu assertion and their political irrelevance.

Professor Kaushal Kishor Mishra, head of the political science department at the Benares Hindu University, who is working at Modi's campaign office, confirms their fears.

<p."The massive crowds of supporters who accompanied Modi on the day he filed his nomination papers showed the Muslims that they are now irrelevant," Professor Mishra -- who has been charged with the assault on former Delhi law minister Somnath Bharati -- tells Rediff.com

A section of Muslims refuses to acknowledge that Modi is in the fight in this election.

Mohammad Haroon and Azeem Khan, residents of crowded Rasoolpura in Varanasi, insist that the May 12 election is a direct contest between the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party.

At the same time, Muslims admit that the choices before them -- the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party -- are not inspiring.

A large section of Muslims is veering towards the Aam Aadmi Party, but is also aware that a division in their vote will only benefit Modi.

This explains why they join a conversation only after extensive prodding.

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Image: Will Narendra Modi, seen here with BJP President Rajnath Singh, be prime minister?
Photographs: Sandeep Pal

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'They are not giving the BJP a chance, but their vote is for Modi'

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Anita Katyal/Rediff.com

Maqbool Hasan, a member of the All-India Handloom Board and a well-known supplier of Varanasi textiles, says Modi's biggest advantage is that he has been projected by the BJP as its prime ministerial candidate and is perceived as a "hardcore neta."

Though there is nothing communal in Modi's speeches, Hasan feels the hidden agenda is unmistakable.

"It is definitely targeted against a particular community... his language and body language is aimed at polarising the electorate."

Hasan feels Modi had caught the imagination of Varanasi's voters.

On the one hand, there is resentment against the United Progressive Alliance government in Delhi and on the other hand voters in Varanasi have to contend with the dismal living conditions in the city.

"So people are saying, 'Let's go for a change,' says Hasan. "They are not giving the BJP a chance, but their vote is for Modi."

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Image: BJP supporters on the day Narendra Modi filed his nomination papers in Varanasi.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal

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'Muslims here are ready to give a chance to a new party'

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Anita Katyal/Rediff.com

Varanasi's 300,000 Muslim voters, who have voted en bloc for one party in the past, Hasan believes, will be divided this election.

A Congress supporter, Hasan feels AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has made a huge impact in Varanasi, especially among the Muslims and Other Backward Classes, including the Yadavs who have been ardent supporters of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.

"Like Modi, Kejriwal is telling people to give him a chance and many people are taken in by his personality," says Hasan.

Agreeing that a division in Muslim votes will help Modi, Hasan describes it as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh conspiracy.

"The RSS realises that the Muslims are not going to vote for the BJP, so it conspired to create a division in Muslims," he says darkly.

While Muslims realise that a divide in their votes will work to the BJP's advantage, they are torn in different directions.

Muslims are disappointed with the Samajwadi Party which rules Uttar Pradesh and under whose watch last year's horrific Muzaffarnagar riots occurred.

The Congress is an option with a section of Muslims, but its fast-plummeting graph on the national scene and its failure to implement the Sachar Commission report seriously has rendered it unattractive.

Many Muslims in Varanasi appear ready to give the new party a chance.

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Image: AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal after ink was hurled at him and other party workers during a rally in Varanasi.
Photographs: Reuters

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'Even if Kejriwal does not do anything, my vote will go to him'

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Anita Katyal/Rediff.com

I spot Mohammad Mobin Ansari, a rickshaw puller, wearing the AAP's trademark topi outside Hasan's stately haveli in the Peeli Kothi area.

Ansari yearns for change and a better tomorrow.

This election he has pinned his hopes on Arvind Kejriwal.

He voted for the Congress in 2009, but has shifted allegiance to AAP this time.

"It deserves to be given a chance," says Ansari. "We have given an opportunity to other political parties, but they all failed us. Even if Kejriwal does not do anything, my vote will go to him."

The weavers's housing colony in the crowded Chowkhaghat area was set up by the Jawaharlal Nehru government in the early 1960s.

Its residents have always been Congress supporters. But they are now having second thoughts about continuing this relationship with the grand old party.

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Image: Arvind Kejriwal, helped by supporters, prepares to take a dip in the waters of the Ganga in Varanasi.
Photographs: Reuters

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'The sole mission of the Muslims is to defeat the BJP'

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Anita Katyal/Rediff.com

Mohammad Hashim, who lives and works in a small dimly lit house, says, "We have been supporting the Congress all these years, but all its leaders come, make promises and then disappear."

Hashim is thinking about abandoning the Congress for Kejriwal.

Pointing to their dismal living and working conditions, Kamal Akhtar, president of the Silk Weavers Cooperative Society, says Kejriwal's workers campaigned in the area and his party has emerged as an attractive alternative.

Akhtar is confused.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm for Kejriwal. But it is a new party. I am not sure if it can deliver on its promises," he adds.

"Muslims always vote for a party which can defeat the BJP," says Akhtar. "We were disillusioned with the Congress after the Babri Masjid demolition. Besides, the Congress only takes care of the rich."

His son Mohammad Asif is more candid.

"The sole mission of the Muslims is to defeat the BJP," says Asif. "We are looking at Kejriwal's party. We believe he can take on the BJP."

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Image: AAP volunteers on the move.
Photographs: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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Modi can't disturb Varanasi's 'Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb'

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Anita Katyal/Rediff.com

A recent AAP convert, textiles businessman Mukhtar Ahmed has been moving around in Muslim-dominated areas, trying to convince voters that they should give Kejriwal a chance.

Ahmed would also like Kejriwal to campaign in non-Muslim areas.

"If the BJP realises that the Muslim is shifting, it would lead to further Hindu consolidation in its favour," he explains.

This shift in the Muslim vote has upset Congress supporters who are unable to understand how Kejriwal has made such a strong impact in such a short time.

"He is an ajooba (miracle-man)," says Irfan Ansari, whose family has always supported the Congress and is actively involved in party candidate Ajay Rai's campaign.

"People are attracted to him because he is educated and honest," Ansari admits grudgingly, but promptly adds that Varanasi's voters don't like outsiders.

Although Muslims in Varanasi are clearly disconcerted by Modi's Hindutva agenda and are fearful of the future, they believe his emergence on the national political stage will not disturb the city's famous 'Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb'

Declaring that there is something special about Varanasi's composite culture, businessman Maqbool Hasan says several efforts have been made in the past to polarise people in the city, but to little avail.

"Our lives and work are intrinsically linked. The weavers here are Muslims, but the traders and consumers of the famous Varanasi saris are Hindus," says Hasan. "We all have to live and work together."


Image: 'If the BJP realises that the Muslim is shifting, it would lead to further Hindu consolidation in its favour,' says one AAP supporter.
Photographs: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

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