Mayawati uses development to woo Muslims

Mayawati uses development to woo Muslims

New Delhi: In a bid to woo Muslims afresh, Bahujan Samaj Party chief and Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Mayawati announced on Monday a number of initiatives for the community, including the setting up of an Arabic-Persian university.

Avoiding politically controversial issues, Mayawati instead dwelled on development while addressing a convention on Problems of Muslim Community in India: Reasons and Solution in Lucknow.

The measures she announced include a Rs2 crore grant to the Waqf Board that manages religious and community properties, establishment of a Unani medicine directorate, relaxing the income ceiling for being eligible for minority scholarships from Rs18,700 to Rs1 lakh; Rs4 crore for a coaching institute for civil service aspirants from the community and filling up of vacancies of Urdu language teachers. Urdu will now be taught in 964 primary and 1,212 higher secondary schools and two new schools for girls will be opened.

Muslims are an important political constituency in UP. According to census 2001 data cited in the Sachar committee report, Muslims constitute 13.4% of India’s population, growing at an average 2.7% a year between 1961 and 2001. Majority of them live in four states—UP, West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra. UP has the largest concentration, accounting for a little over one-fifth (22%). The state sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. At present, BSP holds 17 seats and SP holds 37.

“(The) purpose of the rally is to inform Muslims what other parties have done for them so far, (and) discuss the current problems the community faces and what the BSP can do for them. Responsible Muslims from all over the state were invited for this purpose," said Munquad Ali, BSP member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament.

Traditionally, the Muslim vote has favoured the Congress and lately, the Samajwadi Party. However, the proximity of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with the US, the perceived profiling of the community in the wake of terror strikes and the police encounter in Delhi leading to the death of two youth have left the community uneasy.

Sensing an opportunity, Mayawati has stepped up her appeal to the community, especially after her publicized association with the Left immediately after they withdrew support to the UPA.

Syed Waseem Ahmad, senior reader of political science at the Aligarh Muslim University, says the BSP’s strategy may yield “around 15-20% of the Muslim vote". The opposition parties in the state, however, were sceptical.

The SP’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Mohan Singh, called the convention a “shield" to hide the BSP’s affiliation to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. “The convention is a poor effort to show the minorities that the BSP cares for can a party which can tie up with the BJP to remain in power be pro-Muslim?"

Rita Bahuguna Joshi, UP president of the Congress, said, “The UP government has the habit of taking over Central funds and schemes as its own... We have to analyse how much of these schemes will be funded by the state government."

PTI contributed to this story.