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UP Elections 2017: With 32 Muslim Candidates for 52 Seats, Minorities Hold Trump Card in Hub of Mandir Politics

As the first capital of the princely state of Awadh in the early 18th century, the seeds of the famous 'Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’ were sown in Faizabad, which was then a small city barely 20 km from the temple town of Ayodhya.

Pranshu Mishra | CNN-News18

Updated:February 25, 2017, 9:43 PM IST
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UP Elections 2017: With 32 Muslim Candidates for 52 Seats, Minorities Hold Trump Card in Hub of Mandir Politics
The BSP and the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance have fielded 32 Muslim candidates in phase 5. The BJP, meanwhile, is hoping for consolidation of the Hindu votes in the region. (PTI photos)
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Lucknow: As the first capital of the princely state of Awadh in the early 18th century, the seeds of the famous 'Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’ were sown in Faizabad, which was then a small city barely 20 km from the temple town of Ayodhya.

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This was the time when aazans from the Babri mosque and bells of hundreds of Hindu temples echoed together. The Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi issue was still far from being even a ‘dispute in the making'.

But that was history. After Partition, and especially since early 80s, this erstwhile capital of nawabs, increasingly became the epicentre of right-wing Hindutva politics, focussed around the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. This centre of composite culture became the hotbed of Hindutva politics.

The nearby region, comprising districts of Behraich, Gonda, Shrawasti, Balrampur, Ambedkar Nagar, Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Amethi and Sultanpur, were affected the most. The region emerged as the biggest feeder of Hindu fundamentalists for the movement, which ultimately led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.‎

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It's this region, including Faizabad, which now goes to the polls on February 27 in phase 5 of the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Almost a quarter of a century since the demolition, it's the minority card which has made the contest for 52 Assembly seats in this phase interesting. The BSP and the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance have fielded 32 Muslim candidates. The biggest manifestation of the Muslim card has come from Ayodhya.

It is for the first time that a major political party has given a ticket to a Muslim candidate from this high-profile constituency.

For the BSP, it is Bazmi Siddiqui. He realises the significance of being a candidate from Ayodhya. “A ticket for me from Ayodhya is proof of our leader Mayawati's firm faith in the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. Politics of hate will be defeated in Ayodhya this time,” he says.

The BJP, however, terms this election as a test of the “blatant” minority card.

The party's state general secretary, Vijay Bahadur Pathak, says, “Politics of caste and religion will not work this time. Development is the sole agenda. BJP's slogan of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ is resonating with the voters.”

However, serious doubts are raised over the BJP’s claim of shunning “politics of religion” when leaders like Vinay Katiyar, a party MP, rake up the Ram Temple issue. In an earlier interview to News18 Katiyar had said that the “BJP government in UP will help pave the way for Ram Temple in Ayodhya”. It was seen as an attempt to polarise voters in this crucial region.

The answer to votebank politics and the subtle search for counter-polarisation also probably lies in the demographic realities of the region.

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Says Professor Prashant Trivedi of the Giri Institute of Development Studies, “The Muslim population in the region is around 19%, with the biggest concentration in the districts of Gonda, Shrawasti, Balrampur and Behraich. The BSP and SP-Congress think their core caste votebank and minority card can work in their favour, respectively.”

“Over the decades, Hindu radicalisation had been the strongest in this region as well as eastern UP. Gorakhpur MP Mehant Adityanath's Hindu Yuva Vahini has also made deep inroads in this area of erstwhile Awadh. BJP will hence hope for a counter, Hindu polarisation,” says Professor Trivedi.

In 2012, the Samajwadi Party had won 37 of the 52 seats, Congress and BJP both had won five‎ each; three seats had gone to the BSP and two to others. In 2014, the region saw complete saffron domination. Whose way will the polarisation swing this time? March 11 will tell.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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