Debating India

In UP, gharvapsi after Gujarat


Sunday 9 May 2004, by GUPTA *Smita

BAREILLY: If for the Muslims of UP, who form a crucial 16 per cent of the state’s electorate, the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992 was a defining moment, alienating the community from Congress, the state-sponsored violence in Gujarat in 2002 has made it re-think its political options, and talk of gharvapsi.

The reason for the journey back to Congress is not merely disenchantment with Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, it is Gujarat and the hunt for a party that can take on the BJP nationally.

In Bareilly, Maulana Mannan Raza Khan, the seniormost sajjada nasheen of the Dargah Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi - the biggest centre for the Sunnis of the Barelvi sect in the country - who held a press conference a few days ago announcing his support and that of those belonging to the Barelvi school for the Congress, says, "About a month ago, close to a lakh belonging to the Barelvi school of thought from Maharashtra, Bihar, Punjab, West Bengal, MP, UP, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi -including all the top ulemas - were here for the annual Urs".

"There the issue of the future of the Muslims was discussed. The general consensus was that the BJP came to power at the Centre because we Muslims got divided. Gujarat made us realise that the parties that we had been patronising in UP over the last decade and more, the SP and the BSP, were limited to the state. The SP or the BSP can’t fight the BJP in Gujarat. For that, we need a national party, and the only secular party with a national network is the Congress."

Stressing that the Muslim community had worked hard to persuade either the SP or the BSP to join hands with the Congress, he said, "Congress president Sonia Gandhi herself tried her hardest to persuade these two parties but to no avail. All I can conclude is that these two parties must be BJP agents working to divide the Muslims to help the BJP remain in power."

But surely there were riots during Congress rule? "Yes, but the Congress at least showed signs of repentance. Do you see Narasimha Rao’s face in the Congress after the destruction of the Babri Masjid? But after Gujarat, the BJP made Narendra Modi a hero. That’s the difference. It is this sense that is bringing the Congress back into the political picture."

Indeed, if Sonia Gandhi’s road shows in the run-up to the elections in UP were marked by a large Muslim turnout, when her son Rahul Gandhi hit the campaign trail, it is members of the community who have been most visible.

At Aligarh Muslim University, historian Shireen Moosvi says, "The recent Gujarat riots have made the Muslims think hard. Earlier, when communal riots took place they were between members of two communities, not state-sponsored."

The other factor in Muslim re-thinking has been Murli Manohar Joshi. He is determined to destroy the syncretic culture of this country and rewrite history. The SP might be strong in UP but to take on the BJP in the country, there is only Congress.

Reflecting the change in mood, farmer Iftiqar Ahmed, who is shopping at a weekly market in Purena in the Shajahanpur Lok Sabha constituency says he is voting for the Congress’ Jitin Prasad for three reasons, "His father, Jitendra Prasad was a good man, Jitin is young and so we have hope, but most important, chalti gari main sab bathna chahten hain the Congress is coming back."

In most constituencies, Muslims have still voted SP or BSP, tactically, to defeat the BJP, as strong Congress candidates were few. But even among Muslims voting SP and BSP, there was acknowledgement that eventually the community would return to Congress.

In Lakhimpur, Abdul Saleem, an advocate, says, "In five years you’ll see Muslims returning to their natural home, Congress. Only Congress can run a national government." But hasn’t BJP run a government for five years? "Yes, but what about Gujarat?"

See online : The Times of India


in The Times of India, Sunday, May 9, 2004.

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