Mainpuri (Uttar Pradesh): For Samajwadi Party’s Bhojipura MLA Shahzil Islam it is imperative that reporters visit Mainpuri to see the situation at hand.
“I am at the Bareilly railway station to catch the train for Lucknow and from there I will go to Mainpuri. It is best you meet the people in my constituency,” Shahzil tells this writer.
Dimple Yadav, wife of SP president Akhilesh, is contesting the December 5 Lok Sabha by-election for SP from Mainpuri.
The Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after Dimple’s father-in-law and the founder of Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav passed away recently. Mainpuri is considered the pocket borough of Mulayam’s family, and the Samajwadi Party’s citadel.
The SP’s prestige is at the stake here and the Bharatiya Janata Party is making all efforts to grab this seat. BJP has already taken two other SP bastions, Azamgarh and Rampur, in the last by-polls.
Like Shahzil and Suraj Yadav – an influential Yadav leader accompanied him – many Muslim and Yadav SP leaders from Rohilkhand of western Uttar Pradesh have made it a point to arrive at Mainpuri – nearly 160 kilometres from Bhojipura – to “save” their party’s prestige.
In Mainpuri’s Abhaypur, Bhoripura and Dohana villages, which are all part of the Bhojipura assembly constituency and mostly populated by Muslims, conversations with a cross-section of people brought to the fore a scenario of persecution of minorities quite unprecedented for the region.
On April 3 this year, enthused by his electoral success Shahzil had allegedly said that SP would “fire bullets for each hate-filled word of [UP chief minister] Adityanath”. He denied having made those remarks later, but police booked him for making an allegedly “provocative” speech, and on April 7, a bulldozer ran over his petrol pump on the Bhojipura-Bareilly road.
A local Muslim asks this writer as to whether Shahzil said something more objectionable than what the Union home minister Amit Shah said at his election rally in Gujarat – that “they were taught a lesson in 2002”.
“Every day police carry out raids on Muslims’ homes. They have picked up at least 50 youths – all Muslims – from Abhaypur alone and have framed them in cases relating to internal security and terrorism. They are in jail,” said Hamid Mewati, Pradhan (elected head) of Abhaypur Panchayat. He said that his Panchayat has about 4,000 people, mostly Muslims. It also has Yadavs and others.
Hamid and some youths who joined him claimed that policemen – who are mostly Thakurs, Adityanath’s community – selectively target Muslim youths.
They cited the example of Azam Khan from nearby Rampur, a veteran politician who has been elected to UP’s assembly 10 times and has been MP of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
“Azam Khan was in jail for years. When he came out on bail the police opened a case of hate speech against him from the time of the 2019 elections. He was convicted for three years and lost his membership in parliament,” said a villager. He added, “Top BJP leaders – Amit Shah, Adityanath and others – continuously provoke the minorities with their words and deeds but no case is lodged against them.”
The Pradhan of Bhojipura, Virender Singh, a Hindu, refused to speak to this writer, saying he was not interested in politics.
Ehshan Khan, cousin of Faiaz Khan – Pradhan of Dohana panchayat – said religious lines are very clearly drawn. “Look at the famous Dada Mian Mazhar [memorial] at our village. The Hindus and Muslims visit it and seek the blessings of Dada Mia – a medieval-era fakir [hermit]. But Adityanath’s supporters avoid it.”
He said that over 40 Muslim youths from his village were arrested after the January-February elections and are in jails.
To the solace of the villagers at Dohana, Bhojipura and Abhaypur, their Hindu brethren were nice to them. “We attend their (Hindus) wedding parties, Holi and Diwali festivals, and they do the same at Eid and Bakar-Eid. Our relationship has not been affected,” Hamid Mewati said.
Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have been largely supportive of SP. But they feel that the party they have consistently supported for over three decades has not stood by them.
“Mulayam Singh Yadav is no more. Everyone will die one day. But see the difference between Mulayam and Lalu. Lalu ji stayed in jail for years and was tortured too but never succumbed to the BJP’s pressure. Mulayam didn’t stay in jail but he was soft to the BJP,” said 35-year-old Munna, a carpenter at Dohana.
Munna also says that Akhilesh “sounds as vague as his father”.
“Did you see the Samajwadi Party organising any major protest against the stripping of membership of Azam Khan? Has the Samajwadi Party hit the streets against the bulldozers running over Muslim homes almost every day?” asked Sandeep Dubey, a professor of journalism at the Invertis University Bareilly.
Samajwadi Party’s plea
When informed about the people’s complaints about the Samajwadi Party and asked why the SP has not been up to the expectations of the minorities, the party’s in-charge of Bareilly division, Shameem Khan Sultani said, “The BJP is a fascist party taking the judiciary, investigating agencies, Election Commission, police and bureaucracy of Uttar Pradesh in its control. The party (SP) is fighting against the BJP in a democratic manner.”
However, most of the cadres sitting around Sultani at the SP’s Mission Road office, Bareilly, expressed the necessity to take on the BJP convincingly.
They said that 38% of the prisoners in Uttar Pradesh’s jail belong to the Muslim community which constitutes over 19% of the state’s population.
“If you fear going to jail, Adityanath will frighten you more,” said an SP cadre at the office, who stressed that Akhilesh could do well to follow a more aggressive form of secularism.
He also said, “The cases against Azam Khan saheb include theft of hens and goats. Can you believe Azam Khan saheb steals goats and hens? Adityanath had over 75 cases of crime including murder against him but he was the first chief minister to withdraw cases against himself.”
Sultani asked this writer not to highlight the member’s outburst and sought to calm him down by saying, “Of course, there is despondency among the people as of now but the party will act.”
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, media educator and independent researcher of social anthropology.