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September 28, 1999


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Constituency/ Azamgarh

Community, not development, the issue

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Azamgarh

"Do you know, where I can meet Chunchun miyan?" I ask a passerby at Sarai Meer in Azamgarh constituency. He is unable to help me.

I go to a shopkeeper, but he too throws up his arms and, rendered curious, asks me who this is. I tell him Chunchun miyan owns a shop called Alamat Tatari. That too fails to ring a bell.

So, throwing caution to the winds, I ask him where gangster Abu Salem's brother Chunchun miyan lives?

That gets through. Two gullies down and there you are, he says.

A small boy leads me to Chunchun miyan's shop. We find the man we have been searching for, clad in a spotless white kurta pyjama, chewing paan and yelling instructions to some construction workers.

I introduce myself. And he immediately wants to know how I got his name and who gave me the address. After thorough inquiry, he agrees to speak about his younger brother, Abu Salem.

"We have no contacts with our brother and even the police know that. He left us after completing his inter-college and never came back," says Abu Hatim, that's Chunchun miyan's real name.

"Even the police never bother us since they know we have got nothing to do with him. It is only journalists, jo bhoole bhatke se yahan aa jaate hain," he said.

His friends enter the conversation and the discussion slowly shifts to politics. I ask them what the issues are for the Muslims of this constituency.

"Issues! For Muslims?" asks Azam Khan, an engineer. "There is no issue for Muslims in India; they have been purposefully alienated by the Hindus in each and every field." Asked to elaborate, he continues:

"Take for example, the Indian cricket team. We all want to know why Mohammad Azharuddin was sacked from the captaincy? In our opinion, he was sacked just because he is a Muslim. Tendulkar was the captain on recent tours. And what happened? We lost more matches. Moreover, why do the selectors always take one Muslim in the team? Is it because they want to prove that they are secular? These things hurt us."

Everybody nods agreement, including Chunchun miyan.

"Another example is our assembly constituency, Sarai Meer," Khan continues. "It is a Muslim majority constituency. But it comes under a schedule caste constituency. Why? Because these Hindus do not want Muslim leaders elected."

Saria Meer falls under Azamgarh constituency. The town is now in the grip of election fever and people can be seen actively campaigning for Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Akbar 'Dumpy' Ahmed and Samajwadi Party candidate Ramakant Yadav.

Ahmed, one of Sanjay Gandhi's closest friends, won the 1998 election by just 5,000 votes. His wife Naina is the BSP candidate in Nainital.

There are approximately 1.3 million voters in this constituency. Of these, 325,000 voters are Yadavs, 300,000 are Dalits, 250,000 are Muslims, another 75,000 are Rajbhar -- the most backward community in the area -- and there are about 100,000 from the upper castes.

The constituency is divided in to five assembly segments: Atravlia, Gopalpur, Phulpur, Sadar and Saraimeer. Of these, the BSP has won two, the SP two, and the Bharatiya Janata Party one.

Says Hiralal Gautam, the BSP MLA from Sarai Meer, "There is a direct contest between the BSP and SP, the Congress and BJP do not exist in this region. Both of them can never get votes nearing a lakh (100,000). So, their winning is ruled out."

Muslim voters play an important role in the election since any candidate can win with their support. Ahmed is banking on this factor. He is also certain the backwards will back him. The BSP, like the Congress, is trying hard to woo the Muslim votebank here.

The Muslims here assert they are neglected, since they have no representation in the bureaucracy. That is the prime reason that many Azamgarh residents pick jobs in the Gulf, doing menial jobs for annual salaries of about Rs 78,000, first going to Bombay to find jobs abroad.

Though Chunchun miyan refuses to discuss his brother, locals say Abu Salem too went to Bombay to study further, hoping to go to the Gulf later for better opportunities. But he somehow got trapped in gangster Dawood Ibrahim's circle, they claim.

Due to the influx of Gulf money, the Muslims have prospered here; but many Hindus still live in poor hamlets.

Madarsas are springing in Azamgarh. And most of the Muslim children go to these madarsas than schools set by the government or convents.

Says Maulana Mujibullah Nadvi, head of the Jameturashad, one of the most prominent madarsas in Azamgarh, "Our culture and language is dying. And no state government in UP tried to save it. If we don't send our children to read Urdu, who will read Urdu after 100 years? And that is the precise reason we send our children to the madarsas."

The maulana says Muslims have only two per cent representation in the police. "That is why our boys prefer to go to the Gulf rather than remain unemployed here," he says. Despite the large Muslim population, there has never been a riot here since Independence. However, curfew was imposed during the Ram Janambhoomi kar seva and after the Babri Masjid demolition, as a precautionary measure.

Says K B Singh, superintendent of police, Azamgarh city, "The peculiarity of Azamgarh is that the many gangsters born here have seen to it that there is no communal tension or rivalry here."

He cites Abu Salem as the best example of this. "He will ensure that there is no trouble in Azamgarh. Because, if trouble erupts here the first people interrogated will be his brothers and family members. So it is the interest of these gangsters to ensure that there is peace here."

Most clashes in this region revolve around land, involving either family disputes or cases of illegal seizure. There were 88 murders in 1998 over land; 44 people have already been killed this year.

What worries the police most, odd as it may sound, is the recession in the Gulf.

The lack of demand for manpower there has created a pool of unemployed -- and disgruntled -- youth here in the last two years. The police fear this may lead them to more unlawful behaviour.

Says Kunwar Brijesh Singh, the Sarai Meer station house officer, "We keep a constant vigil since ISI (Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence directorate) agents are always looking for such unemployed Muslim youth to create trouble."

But the police deny that the ISI has been active here and assert that no madarsa here has been involved in subversive activity.

"The ISI activity in this region is zero. But we keep a watch on the hotels of Azamgarh and ensure no stranger roams in our area," says SHO Singh. One cause for this caution is Azamgarh's proximity to Nepal. They are also worried about the activities of another gangster, Mukhtar Ansari, who is contesting the election from the adjoining Ghazipur constituency and is currently housed in Lucknow jail.

According to the police, the only crime that Muslims are involved in large numbers is the hawala racket. And that because their labourer relatives abroad want to send money over immediately to their relatives over here without going through the bureaucracy.

Last year, the police recovered Rs 3 million from different places and nearly 10 Muslims were arrested, reveals SHO Singh.

Asked why it was claimed that the ISI was flourishing in the madarsas of Azamgarh, Maulana Nadvi says, "The BJP cannot endure the Muslims progressing here. They are more jealous because they can never win from this place. And with the help from the press that backs them, they spread such rumours."

Like in Akbarpur, development is no issue. There are regular power cuts and bumpy roads. But the main concern appears to be to get one of one's own community elected.

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav is at a disadvantage because many here feel he has betrayed Congress president Sonia Gandhi and provided the BJP indirect support.

Says Haroon Shaikh, a teashop owner, "Muslim are sick of Mulayam's doublespeak. It has resulted in the growth of the BJP. He has forgotten that when Muslims can kick out the Congress under P V Narasimha Rao's leadership, they can kick him out too."


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