Cautious Samajwadi Party seeks to correct 'pro-Muslim' tag
Badly mauled in the Lok Sabha election largely due to communal polarization, Uttar Pradesh's ruling Samajwadi Party has picked only one Muslim candidate for the 11 assembly seats that will see by-elections next week.
Having inferred that the BJP's branding of the Samajwadi Party as pro-Muslim during the Lok Sabha campaign hurt it badly, party strategists are keeping the minority community at an arm's length, in some ways. Of the 11 seats, the party has given ticket to only one Muslim while the number was three in the 2012 assembly elections. All the other 10 candidates are Hindu.
The bid to distance itself from being seen as overtly pro-Muslim has been pitched for by party strategists who feel the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was again trying to polarize voters on caste and communal lines.
"The BJP is again playing the same game. It is hence imperative on our part to course correct if we have to snatch a few seats from the BJP," a Samajwadi leader told IANS.
The BJP holds all 11 seats along with its ally Apna Dal. The by-polls were necessitated after all the 11 legislators got elected to the Lok Sabha.
Significant is the Samajwadi Party's changed line of thinking in communally sensitive western Uttar Pradesh where the party has fielded the lone Muslim face -- in Thakurdwara.
The party has also asked its most visible Muslim face, Mohd Azam Khan, to stay away from the 11 constituencies.
Khan's inflammatory and communally worded speeches in the Lok Sabha election hurt the Samajwadi Party as Hindus voted en masse in some places for the BJP, a senior minister said.
In the process, the BJP won a staggering 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in May. The Apna Dal won two. The Samajwadi Party won five seats and the Congress two. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was wiped out.
Muslim leaders in the party have urged Samajawadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to do all that was possible to ensure that the party didn't get into "a polarization tangle".
The Congress, which was crushed in the Lok Sabha battle, too is playing it safe. It has fielded only two Muslim candidates: in Thakurdwara and Bijnore.
Indeed, of the total 118 candidates in the fray, there are only 13 Muslims.
"Any division of minority votes can be catastrophic. We have tried to reinvent the way we are being perceived by the people," a Congress leader told IANS.
The BJP has upped the Hindu and anti-Muslim cards through campaigns on 'Love Jihad', religious conversion and communal riots.
In the five assembly seats of western Uttar Pradesh, where Muslim population averages 25-30 percent, the candidates' list is largely devoid of Muslim faces.
The BJP trashes charges that it was trying to polarize Hindu votes by unleashing anti-Muslim campaigns.
"Who they field is their internal matter. But they have to understand that the people of Uttar Pradesh will vote for development politics," says BJP spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak, referring to its rivals.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 05-09-2014)