Prayagraj (Uttar Pradesh): In Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj district, there is a sizeable Muslim community. For them, the right to live with respect and dignity is the primary issue in the ongoing elections. Members of the community in unison say they want “Yogi’s reign of terror” to end.
In the two Muslim-dominated urban assembly seats of Prayagraj district, Allahabad West and Allahabad South, the minority community will play a decisive role as against the rural constituency of Handia, where minority voters are fewer in numbers.
On the road leading to Handia’s Imamganj area from Baraut, a group of Muslim youth was awaiting the arrival of the Samajwadi Party candidate, Hakim Lal Bind, for an election rally near Dubahan market in Ghausia. When asked about their primary issues, the men said that more than anything else, fighting for the right to live with respect and honour will be the election issue during the ongoing elections in the state.
Despite being dissatisfied with the work of the incumbent MLA, the Muslim voters in the area still support him. Bind won on a BSP ticket in the 2017 polls and is in the fray as an SP candidate this time.
About the MLA’s term, one of the youngsters and a student of commerce, Aslam, said, “He did not do any work. In fact, the neighbouring village Gaharpur, which has a dominant Bind population, had a water-logging issue two years ago. But the MLA did not visit the village despite several requests.”
However, getting rid of Yogi Adityanath’s “reign of terror” is the primary concern for him.
As this correspondent clicked a picture of a mosque before striking a conversation with them, the locals thought that he was a government official and an order was issued for the demolition of the roadside mosque. Aslam and many of his friends did not consent to being photographed. So, the correspondent clicked a group photo of the crowd holding garlands in their hands and left. He also spoke with some elderly men in the Imamganj market, who share a similar opinion regarding poll issues.
At a tea stall in Allahabad South, he met a group of men and asked them about their concerns. “Tell me, what can be the issues of people in a Muslim-dominated area?” asked Tauheed, from among the group.
“Safety and a respectable life are the biggest issues,” he quickly added. “To be able to go out freely with our family, and for our women to wear niqab and not hear insulting and provocative remarks.”
“Politics should not be mixed with religion,” said Tahir, another local present there. “The BJP’s kind of politics is not in the interest of the country.”
According to Zakir, another local resident, political parties should not be rooted in religion. When the correspondent asked him why shouldn’t there be a Muslim party when we have parties for castes and sub-castes, he said, “Let the Ansaris, Khans and other backward (Pasmanda) castes have their parties. But if you float a religion-based party, how will it outweigh the BJP?”
Tahir said that the BJP won not only because of communal politics and by polarising Hindus and Muslims but also by “peddling fake dreams and conning people”. “Since the party has failed to fulfil those promises, all the Hindu castes have turned against it,” he observed.
Afroz, who runs the tea stall, remarked that inflation had also increased steeply. “In the evenings, my shop used to have a lot of customers. Now, I am content to earn enough for a day’s meal,” he added.
Seated at a distance were Dharmendra Maurya, who works as a gardener, and Ghanshyam, a small trader. Both of them agreed with Afroz.
Ghanshyam also emphasised that education and health facilities should be improved and provided for free.
No Muslims in the fray
Meanwhile, local Muslims are upset with the dearth of Muslim candidates in the fray. Despite the South and West constituencies of the city having a heavy Muslim voter percentage, not a single candidate from the community has been fielded. However, locals believe that it won’t affect voting and the community will actively participate in the polls.
When asked to comment, a government school teacher, who lives near the Sixty Feet Road in Allahabad South and was dressed in relatively modern attire, said on the condition of anonymity: “I also want to wear a niqab sometimes but I teach at a rural school distant from the city. I do not wear it out of fear of revealing my religious identity. Any kind of incident can happen any time.”
Safety and honour are the fundamental issues for her in these elections.
Hina Firdous, a private school teacher in Rasulpur, a lower middle-class locality of Allahabad West, wants inflation to be brought down and businesses to prosper. Her husband and brother-in-law are small-time traders. She fears that if the BJP forms the government again, it will “make life more difficult for the Muslims, implement the Citizenship Amendment Act and begin drafting the National Register of Citizens”. She wants the current BJP government to be voted out.
Saurabh Verma, a political science student pursuing a PhD at Allahabad University, asked, “When all the upper caste Hindus vote en bloc for the BJP, no one questions it. But when Muslims do the same, they are termed narrow-minded, anti-Hindu and even anti-national.”
“We must oppose this kind of mentality if we truly want to build a modern nation,” Verma added. “In our democracy, it is ironic how members of a community are identified only by their religion and not as citizens of the country and are being forced to vote only for their safety and honour.”