Nida Khan, a three-time Talaq victim, and Samyun Khan, a social worker in Bareilly, represent two ends of the political spectrum during the second phase of Uttar Pradesh’s Muslim-centred general election. Nida, who certainly wears a burqa (veil), campaigns for the BJP in densely populated Muslim colonies. Samyun, without a veil, is fully pro-Samajwadi Party (SP) and is accompanied by her team of social workers.
Their parties are different, but their issues are the same – security and women’s empowerment.
Amid the ongoing hijab controversy, 55 seats in western Uttar Pradesh going to the polls on Monday (February 14) would reveal the nature of the brain drain in this Muslim belt, where the ruling BJP is hoping for a split in Muslim voices A prospect that analysts say its main challenger, the Samajwadi party, wants to avoid.
“We didn’t hint at the hijab controversy that was deliberately ignited during campaign time to turn this election into a Hindu-Muslim election,” says Samyun, who runs an NGO that deals with real issues such as empowerment, price hikes and social issues Security views are the same for all women, regardless of political divisions.
“That’s why we focus on real issues, not minor issues,” she says. Nida, the daughter-in-law of the cleric Tauqir Raza Khan of Bareilly’s famous Dargah Ala Hazrat, adds that the abolition of the triple talaq instant divorce practice has helped Muslim women enormously.
“I’m a victim myself, but there were women who, under the flimsiest of pretexts, immediately got divorced. Things are very different now,” she says while staying away from the hijab controversy.
However, Samyun says triple talaq wasn’t as big a problem as it was claimed.
“It’s not that all Muslim women have a husband who wants to divorce them. The real problems are life and livelihood,” she says.
In two public meetings, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised the issue of scrapping the triple talaq, mentioning at length that he didn’t care about votes and the opposition while moving forward the law, which he said had offered safety to Muslim women. On the other hand, Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath has weighed in on the hijab controversy by declaring that the country is governed by the constitution, not sharia – Islamic law. Policy experts say they will be watching how the Muslim factor plays out in those 55 seats.
“This time even the BJP alliance put up a Muslim candidate and the BJP leaders are telling the community to also consider who really worked for them. It would be interesting to see the voting pattern here,” says Irshad Ilmi, a political observer.
Even at the height of the BJP wave in 2017, 10 Muslim candidates from those 55 constituencies won, while 18 finished runners-up. This time, 78 Muslim candidates were nominated by non-BJP parties. Even the BJP-Apna Dal (Sonnelal) alliance has nominated a Muslim – Haider Ali Khan – from the Swar in Rampur. The BJP held 38 of the 55 seats, while the Samajwadi party had won 15 in 2017 despite the BJP wave.
“In 2017, most leading parties fielded Muslim candidates in almost 16 to 17 constituencies, paving the way for the BJP to win those seats. The BJP knows that a unified Muslim vote bank would mean trouble for them,” said Congress Chairman Zishan Haider. This time, four constituencies each have four Muslim candidates in the fray. Three minority candidates are running in six constituencies. Two seats each have two Muslim candidates.
A key factor this time around is that Samajwadi party heavyweight Azam Khan, the current Lok Sabha MP from Rampur, who has won the assembly seat in Rampur nine times and is running again in assembly elections, is in prison.
Azam Khan had been indicted on over 100 counts since 2017, when the BJP came to power in UP. His son Abdullah Azam, who won the Swar Assembly seat in 2017 before being disqualified, is currently on bail and is running again this time. Khan’s wife and current lawmaker Tazeen Fatima says the cases against Azam Khan and the family are politically motivated.
“He’s going to win because he’s made a place for himself in people’s hearts, regardless of politics,” she says.
Union Minister Anurag Thakur, who campaigned actively in Uttar Pradesh, says: “In Phase 1 of the elections, (Samajwadi leader) Akhilesh (Yadav) backed Nahid Hasan (who is running from Kairana), who is in prison among the gangsters under the law. In phase 2 he will remember Azam Khan and as the elections go east he will also start remembering Mukhtar Ansari and Atiq Ahmad,” Thakur said. All four people named by Thakur are in prison on different charges.
Of the 55 seats, Congress had won two, while the BSP failed to open its account in 2017.