Mayawati, Live from Aligarh
That Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) hasoneofthecountry’smostbeautifulcampuses was almost proved by the fact that I was late for my meetings there. Walking down those broad and clean streets with either side lined by white sunlight-bouncingbuildingsandgrassandflowerseverywhere showed me the alternative to those campuses-dressed-up-as-playschools in places like Bengaluru and Palo Alto. But I have wasted one university life. I was not going to waste university appointments.
Aligarh had already voted on February 11, with the assembly constituency of Koil (inwhichAMUfallsunder)havingthecurious case of the Congress candidate Vivek Bansal fighting it out with the Samajwadi Party’s Ajju Ishak, even as Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav continue to love each other on Valentine’s Day. I meet the eversmiling Enayetullah Khan, a research assistant in the department of history.
I was supposed to meet him inside the Maulana Azad Library, but it’s in the glorious sunshine outside the arts faculty building that I am introduced to Prof Mohammad Sajjad of the Centre of Advanced Study in History. I ask the obvious question one can ask in Aligarh two days before Phase 2 polls: Will Mayawati get some of the Muslim votes that she has been making an extra effortt to win?
SajjadstartsbysayingthatmostMuslims will vote for the SP-Congress hand-cycle. Maya... Maya... Maya... “But had she really made an extra effort to win over the Muslims, she would have spoken out loudly on the issue of Muzaffarnagar. Not only the riots, but also about the displaced people who have been living in abject conditions. So except for ticket distribution, how do you say that she has made an extra effort?.”
Sajjad then proceeds to talk about something that has been, according to him, “under-reported by the media”: her style of functioning with regard to the BSP’s ‘DalitMuslimunity’effort.“Yousee,” saysSajjad,pullinguphisblack andwhitesweatersleeves,“the historicallyoppressedsections of Muslims, the pasmanda – pasmanda activists and intellectuals have been working hard for Dalit Muslims for a while. In fact, some say the Muzaffarnagar riots were a cause rather than an effect of the Pasmanda Kranti AbiyanthatwasalreadyunderwayinJuly 2013 before the September riots. And some wouldhaveitthatitwasMayawatiwhowas behindthePasmandaKrantiAbiyan.Soit is odd to find her quiet now.”
Prof Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi of the history department, whom I meet next, is much more sceptical about anything that goes under the name of ‘Muslim vote’. “It’s a fight for haves and have-nots, and many Maya... Maya... Maya... Muslimshappentofallunderthecategory of have-nots along with many other havenot communities. This sudden support from maulvis and imams for Mayawati doesn’tmeananythinganymore.Theseare discreditedforceswhoonlysomeuneducated Muslims may listen to. But their stamp ofapprovalhardlymattersanymore,”says Rezavi, who seems to take secularism far moreseriouslythanUP’s‘secular’parties. “What makes anyone think a Muslim will vote for only a Muslim candidate?” he says with agitated seriousness.
Talking heads are usually jammed inside a television screen.Asaprintjournalistwho abhors studios, I prefer hopping from one room to another. In a room not far from Prof Rezavi’s sits just-promoted-to-Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Mohammad Mohibul Haque. He tells me about the ability of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Mulsimeen (AIMIM) to play spoilsport – for both BSP and SP-Congress – in at least 20-25 seats. “And people have already asked, ‘And what ifMayawatigetsthenumbersbutfallsshort and ties up with the BJP?”
Inanotherroom,withpastAMUworthies staringdownatmefromframedblack-andwhiteframedportraits,ProfMirzaAslam Beg, Chairman, Department of Political Science, thinks that Mayawati’s ‘MuslimDalit’ strategy “looks good on paper but is too simplistic”. Behind his chairman’s table, Beg says, “Her Kanshi Ram Awaas Yojna for housing for the economically depressedwasimpressiveandanexampleof real social welfare. But that hasn’t benefitedherpoliticallyamongMuslimsevenifit should have. It is time for UP to shift from identity politics to real politics.”
It’s for Aftab Alam, Assistant Professor, Political Science, do give me a dose of realpolitik.“Youhavetounderstandthatthere is a class factor playing. Poor Dalits and Muslims,whosevoicethemediaisnotcapturing, are gravitating towards the BSP. Better-off Muslims are showcasing their support for the SP-Congress. Mayawati is the dark horse this election.”