[Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets crowd at a road show in Varanasi on Saturday March 04, 2017. (PTI Photo)]
Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh): After 'Eelectricty during Ramzan and Holi' and 'Land for Qabristan and Shamsan Ghats' jibes used to accuse the Akhilesh Singh government in Uttar Pradesh of favouring Muslims, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday during his roadshow in Varanasi reached out to the second largest community in India after Hindus and sought their votes in the ongoing state elections.
Prime Minister Modi, facing a tough contest in Uttar Pradesh, stopped in Muslim localities during his over 08-km roadshow on Saturday and called upon his "Muslim brothers" to vote for the BJP candidates.
Varanasi, also known as Banaras, has a good chunk of Muslim population. The historic city, represented by Prime Minister Modi in the Parliament, is known for its temples. But, very few people know the city is also known in the Muslim world for renowned Islamic seminaries, especially Al Jamia Tus Salafiah, famous as Markazi Darul Uloom located in Reori Talab area of the city.
When Modi's convoy passed through Madanpura area of Varanasi on Saturday, a group of Muslims greeted him with bouquet of flowers. When the prime minister saw them holding flowers for him, he got his specially designed SUV stopped and accepted the flowers extending his hands to them.
At another place, a group of Muslim weavers led by Mukhtar Ahmed Mehtu threw a shawl towards Prime Minister Modi's fleet, which he caught in air and put it on his head as mark of respect to the greeters.
The goodwill gesture however may not translate into votes for the BJP candidates because of many reasons.
"Hamare Prime Minister hain. Banaras taraqqi karega to hum bhi taraqqi karengein. But BJP wale humein pasand nahi karte. (He is our prime minister. If Vanarasi progresses, then so will we. But the BJP does not like us)", says Rafiq Ahmed, a septuagenarian trader in Madanpura.
Asked if they would vote for Modi, some youths shot back, "How many Muslims have been fielded by the BJP in UP? Zero. We are 20 per cent in the state but not seen good enough even for one of the 403 seats. Why should we vote for him?"
There are some Muslims who give credit to the Prime Minister for launching developmental schemes in Varanasi and increased cleanliness. But, there is also a lot of resentment in the community over demonetisation, which has especially hit hard the weaving community, comprising mostly Muslims.
Abdul Rauf, a noted handloom dealer, is disappointed over Modi's handling of weavers' concerns but says he continues to have hope in him.
With their Banarasi sarees having lost sheen post note ban, many weavers express their unhappiness with the BJP's policies. Besides there are old fault lines, including the party's Hindutva pitch, that deeply divide the community and the saffron outfit.
Zubair Ahmed (26) says in a lighter vein that even if some of them vote for the party, nobody will believe them.
He says he knew friends who had voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when Modi contested from here. "Our non-Muslim friends laughed when we told them".
Muslims, comprising 20 per cent of the total voters, appear to be solidly behind the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance here, virtually ruling out any serious split in their ranks on March 8, when the city goes to the polls.
The combined votes of the SP and the Congress were more than the winning BJP candidates' in two of the three seats and it could be a reason that the saffron party deployed its top leaders, including several Union ministers, in holding small and big public events targeting different sections of people.
A division in Muslims votes in the 2012 state elections played a role in the BJP's win in all three assembly seats falling in the city.
Prime Minister Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and other party leaders during election rallies in other parts of the state had issued remarks which the rival parties alleged were communal in nature and insulting for Muslims.
Interestungly, the Supreme Court just before the election process in five states commenced last month had barred political parties from using religion, region, caste or community in their poll campaigns.