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Muslims go affron in Rae Bareli - The Hindu

Hasan Suroor ()
February 12, 1998

Title: Muslims go affron in Rae Bareli
Author: Hasan Suroor
Publication: The Hindu
Date: February 12, 1998

A visitor to Rae Bareli is immediately struck by the radical
change in the Muslim mood since the last elections. Far from
showing any sign of nervousness about the prospects of the BJP
coming to power, as they did in the last elections, many are
openly declaring their preference for it.

And surprisingly they include those who, in 1996, had little
patience with the BJP describing it as "anti-Muslim" and
"fascist." Even as an aberration this is considered significant
and unless it is a big con trick-which some people think it is-
one thing seems clear: the BJP is no longer untouchable among a
sizeable section of Muslims here though how many would vote for
it is debatable.

The "conversion" of over 1,000 Muslims to the BJP in Bahai
village, about 35 km from Rae Bareli, suggests that the trend is
not restricted to urban areas. It does, however, appear to be
more dominant among the Shias than Sunnis most of whom swear by
Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.

Questioned closely most BJP "converts" struggle to explain the
change in their attitude giving the impression that it has more
to do with the confusion in the community, as a result of its
disillusionment with "secular" parties, than with any objective
appreciation of the BJP's policies. Some of the reactions
suggest a sudden realisation that a "known devil" is better than
a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Borrowing a phrase from the BJP's own propaganda, a self-employed
youth, Abdul Wahab, says that the least the BJP does what it
promises, and then with a touch of unintended black humour adds:
"They said they would demolish the Babri Masjid and they did
while the Congress(I) failed to protect it after repeatedly
assuring us that nobody would be allowed to touch it."

The argument is repeated, in another part of the city, by a
timber merchant Mohammad Ismail, who says: "I would rather have
the BJP than someone who would stab me in the back as the
Congress(l) did." Incidentally, in 1996 Mr. Ismail had a very
different perspective on the BJP and when reminded of his
previous anti-BJP stance he admits that he has revised his views.

"Vajpayee-ji has made tremendous impact by not harping on the
mandir issue, and in fact he has said that Ayodhya will not be
repeated. This is a big thing", he says, as others around him nod
their heads in approval.

Mr. Mohammad Murtaza is another businessman who has gone soft on
the BJP since the last elections when, like most Muslims, he
voted for the Janata Dal. This time, the Janata Dal is not in the
fray and instead the main contest is between the BJP's sitting
MP, Mr. Ashok Singh, and Mr. Surendra Bahadur Singh of the
Samajwadi Party.

Though Mr. Murtaza does not commit himself to voting for the BJP,
he argues that he is "more concerned about issues like price rise
and the development of Rae Bareli and if the BJP says it can
deliver what's the harm in giving it a chance?" He is certain
that unlike the last elections Muslims would vote for the BJP
this time. "It may be a small number but they would."

In the city's main shopping complex, several Muslim shopkeepers
speak in the same vein. One of them, Shahzada who runs a cloth
shop, makes it a point to stress that he comes from a family of
Congress(l) supporters and that last time he had voted for the
Janata Dal. "This time my vote is for Ashok Singh. He is very
accessible .... even when he can't do very much he listens to
us." In many cases, it seems that the soft Muslim attitude has a
lot to do with Mr. Ashok Singh's helpful approach to his
constituency, though a hush-hush story is that Muslims are
speaking out of "fear".

It is alleged that most voters here live in "terror" because of
the "strong arm methods" of Mr. Ashok Singh's cousin, Mr. Akhlesh
Singh. Though a prominent local Congressman he is rumoured to be
exerting his "muscle power" on behalf of the BJP "Muslims are
scared ...... but in the end they would vote for Samajwadi
Party", confides Mr. Om Prakash an assistant bank manager.

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