Date: 29 Shaaban 1444   Tuesday 21 March 2023

  • Last Update: Monday 20 March 2023، 08:29:50.

Muslims to vote against hate, ‘insecurity’ in India’s crucial state polls

06:53 08 February 2022 Author :  

As campaigning for provincial elections in India’s politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) takes a feverish pitch, Mohammad Islam, 65, a resident of Nahid Colony in the outskirts of Muzaffarnagar town 90 kilometers (55 miles) from capital New Delhi, waves to a campaign vehicle that passed through the main road.

As Anadolu Agency hit the road to follow the election campaign trail in the most populated province with a population of 204 million, political leaders of different political parties were seen going door to door to lure voters. The Election Commission of India has banned big rallies and gatherings in the wake of COVID-19.

For Mohammad Islam, who belongs to the minority Muslim community, which comprises 38 million (19.3% of the population), the elections hold considerable significance.

"We were thrown out of our village in 2013 and the fear is still running in our minds," a frail Islam told Anadolu Agency. He has since then moved to Nahid Colony, which was constructed by incumbent Muslim legislator Naheed Hassan for the affected families following a deadly communal riot in the region in 2013.

"On Feb 10, I will vote for the party that will end the growing hate against the Muslims and will help my sons get employment,” he said.

The state with 403 assembly seats is going to the polls in seven phases. The first phase will take place on Feb 10 and the last on March 7.

The sense of insecurity that Islam is referring to is rampant among the minority community across the province, perpetuated by different acts and incidents. In 2015, 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq, a farm worker, was allegedly lynched in this region by a mob over rumors that his family had been storing and consuming beef at home.

Religious divide

Earlier in 2013, clashes between the Hindu and Muslim communities in Muzaffarnagar resulted in at least 62 deaths and left more than 50,000 people displaced, according to details gathered by different media outlets.

In 2016, ahead of assembly elections that were swept by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its leaders alleged that Hindu families were being forced to migrate from the Muslim-dominated town of Kairana.

Since then the residents feel the religious divide has been further sharpened in the region.

"We want a government which will provide development, puts an end to unemployment. A political dispensation which tends to the injuries and bridges the gap between majority and minority," said Shahzad Ahmad, 37, a resident of Karaina town.

Many in the town believe that since the Hindu nationalist BJP took over power in New Delhi in 2014, the hostility towards minorities has increased. They refer to Indian Home Minister Amit Shah’s election gatherings, where he again raked the issue of the alleged exodus of Hindus.

Local police which had probed the exodus had punctured this argument in 2016. A spot verification of 150 addresses of the list had revealed that this migration had taken place due to the search for better business and job prospects and not due to Muslims. It also found that many of such migrations had taken place even eight or 10 years ago.

While the communal divide is creating unease among Muslims, the issues like unemployment, economic meltdown find echo across the religious divide.

At a roadside in dusty down of Kairana, where vehicles associated with different political parties were moving past blurring songs, Imdad Ahmed, a farmer, said people may this time vote based on economic issues.

"The unemployment issue continues to persist. People travel to a neighboring state for jobs. Condition of roads are bad, there is no transport and even no proper education institutes as well,” he said.

Karina's BJP candidate Mriganga Singh, however, said that the region has seen significant development over the past five years. She said people who had left the town are returning, and "everybody is feeling safe now”.

Election fervor

While the election fervor is visible all across the state, the growing hate against Muslims is a matter of concern for most in the minority community. The community members are cautious while speaking to visiting journalists and many refuse to open up.

In Deoband town, which hosts South Asia's famous Darul Uloom, a religious seminary established in 1866, people mentioned rising Islamophobia and hate against Muslims as main concerns.

Although the Deoband seminary has officially kept itself away from politics, many religious scholars near the sprawling marble-coated Masjid Rasheed on the condition of anonymity said that stereotyping of Muslims and seen through the prism of hate was a cause for worry.

"Recently the government announced to deploy an anti-terror police training center near this place. Instead, they should have announced a university for this area which would have benefited both the communities. This adds to the fear that Muslims are not treated well by the government," said Mohammad Ansari, a resident.

He said he has decided to vote for the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen party, the party headed by Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of parliament.

Author and activist Syed Wajahat Shah told Anadolu Agency that the place famous for its madrasas lacks industries, and young people are looking for jobs.

"This place needs to have industries, which could provide jobs, and modern university to educate our new generation. That should be the focus of politics, not the hate." he said.

He said the lack of availability of higher education institutions is one of the primary factors forcing girls to drop out after passing their high school in the region.

"Given the present situation, not all parents are willing to send their daughters to faraway places for higher education," he said.

Hate and polarization

"In the Muslim world particularly in the Middle East, we have seen how the majority protects the minorities. We don't witness hate towards minorities in those countries. This time voters will have this on their minds to choose a government that enables an environment free from hate and polarization," said Wajahat.

Even as the Deoband assembly constituency has a 40% Muslim population, the BJP candidate in 2017 won the seat after the Muslim votes split between the two candidates.

Zaheen Ahmad, who owns a coffee shop cum restaurant in Deoband, pointed out that the elections would not be limited to issues linked to state-level only.

"Issues like Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens were brought by the BJP government. As these issues are being raked up, it was assumed, the government is not Muslims friendly," he said, adding that such issues have upset the Muslims.

He, however, admitted that some schemes of the government meant for the poor have benefited the Muslims as well.

Some 250 km (155 mi) away from Deoband is another famous city of Aligarh, which hosts the world-famous Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) a modern educational institution.

Inside the campus, many students urge political parties to seek votes based on providing education and employment rather than spreading hate.

"We want a government which will build universities so that India moves forward globally," said Salman Ahmad, who is pursuing a master's program.

"Education, employment, development should be the core issues in the elections instead of religion,” he added.

Educationist and author Rahat Abrar, a former faculty member at the AMU, said minorities have decided to fight promotion of hate through democratic means.

Factors to choose candidates

While maintaining that Muslims cannot afford to remain aloof from politics as it is going to affect them, Abrar noticed that off late "the anti-Muslim feeling among the majority has increased”.

"I think the voters will choose their candidates, by keeping all issues in mind which are related to safety and day-to-day issues," he said.

Mohammad Jafar, a man from Aligarh's main town with a flowing white beard, said that the calls for violence against Muslims have become a norm and the government has not acted against those involved.

"The government schemes have reached everyone. There is no law-and-order situation on the streets, but people are disappointed that the government has not brought an end to the growing hate against minorities,” he said./aa

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