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February 17, 1998


Campaign Trail/Syed Firdaus Ashraf

'L K Advani, a sharnarthi, is telling us to go to Pakistan'

It is a long, two kilometres over the Narorha bridge that takes you from Aligarh to Gunnaur zilla. On both sides of the road you find abandoned and locked mosques, an indication that once a large number of Muslims filled them up every Friday. And that they don't anymore.

Says Mohammad Zahirud-Din, a 75-year-old farmer from Gunnaur, "These mosques have been locked for the last 50 years. Then, many Muslims from this zilla left for Pakistan."

Gunnaur is part of the Sambhal constituency where the contest is between Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and D P Yadav, the sitting MP who is being supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The fight is likely to be one-sided, since the Muslims -- who made nearly 60 per cent of the population in 1947 -- feels more insecure now that constitute just 25 per cent of the population. In such conditions, it is unlikely they can risk letting the BJP get its foot into the door.

Says Zahirud-Din, a supporter of the Congress in 1947, "Riots were so frequent in 1946-47 that many Muslims in our village felt their future was uncertain in India. And so they left for Pakistan."

However, many others, convinced by Jawaharlal Nehru that India would be a secular State and that Muslims would get equal treatment, stayed on in India.

Says Farooq Ali, a Samajwadi Party leader from Gunnaur, "My grandfather Chaudhary Mushtaq Ali did not go to Pakistan because he felt he would not be given the same treatment as Pakistani locals. He was proved right. See how the Mohajirs are being killed almost every day in Karachi."

These Muslims claim trouble between the Hindus and Muslims go back a thousand years, to the time Mohammad Ghauri invaded India.

According to them the Hindu king Prithviraj Chauhan's second capital after Delhi was Sambhal. And it was in Sambhal that Prithviraj met his first defeat against Ghauri.

After Prithviraj's defeat many of Ghauri's soldiers settled down in Sambhal and married local women. However, there are hardly any ruins left harking back to the days of either Chauhan or Ghauri.

According to the Muslims, the first Mughal emperor Babar too visited Sambhal and constructed the Sambhal Jamma Masjid. But despite the importance history has bestowed on it, the people their claim their city has never received its due.

"It is only now that journalists are coming to cover the constituency -- because Mulayam Singh is contesting from here," says Mushaiyad Hassan, managing director of the only hotel, Hotel Agfa, in Sambhal.

But it is not as serious an issue with them as what could happen to them if the BJP came to power.

Says Parvez Khan, an auto spares part seller, "We used to laugh at our Pakistani cousins about their status in their country as Mohajirs. Now they will laugh at us after the BJP forms the government and treat Muslims as second class citizens."

Says Mohammad Yusuf, a 70-year-old farmer whose family was against the two-nation theory in 1947, "I remember when these refugees came from Pakistan to Delhi. They were called sharnarthis. Today, all of us have accepted them as Indians, calling them Punjabi and Sindhis. And the BJP president, L K Advani who is himself a sharnarthi is now telling us to go to Pakistan."

The Muslims agree that most of them had backed Pakistan. But circumstances compelled them to support the Muslim League in 1947, they say.

Says 72-year-old Haji Mushraf Ali, who had himself supported Pakistan, "Though I was 20 years old and did not understand much about politics I still supported the cause of Pakistan because my uncle, Chaudhary Khurshid Ali Khan was president of the Muslim League in 1947."

Haji Mushraf, who studied only till Class IV, was a regular visitor at the Aligarh Muslim University whenever Mohammed Ali Jinnah or Liaquat Ali Khan, later the first prime minister of Pakistan, addressed Muslim students.

"I never understood Qaid-e-Azam's (great leader, the popular title for Jinnah) speeches because he only spoke in English. But I used to shout slogans like "Pakistan zindabad" after his speech." Then why didn't he got to Pakistan?

"It was not safe to travel to Pakistan since the road leading to Punjab and Dacca had turned into a killing field. Secondly we thought Pakistan's boundary would touch Aligarh. That didn't happen."

Now he feels there could have been nothing worse than Partition and that he is better off in India than the Mohajirs in Pakistan. If it had not been for a lingering fear of the BJP.

Though the Congress used Muslims as a votebank, it never victimised them, he says. But for the BJP an anti-Muslim attitude is its very raison d'etre d'existence.

"Muslims who supported the Muslim League in 1947 are repenting and are voting for secular parties like the SP, Congress, Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party. But the Hindus, who supported the Congress in 1947, are now voting for a communal party," he says with a sigh.

Campaign Trail

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