The Chungi market of Aligarh, right in front of Aligarh Muslim University’s Centenary gate, is buzzing with students in the winter evening of January. Although the hostels are officially closed, students have occupied their rooms inside the campus. The market hosts a plethora of crowded tea shops, small eateries, printing and photocopy shops. These shops, and the university, lie inside the Koil assembly segment of Aligarh currently represented by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Anil Parashar who defeated Ajju Ishaq of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2017 by more than 50,000 votes.
Koil assembly segment of Aligarh district is one among 18 assembly constituencies having more than 25 percent Muslim population. Koil previously has been represented by a Muslim only twice since independence. The Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2017 dropped the sitting MLA Zameerullah Khan, who was the first Muslim ever to represent the Koil assembly since the first-ever assembly elections in the state in 1952 where Nafisul Hasan won from Congress ticket. Samajwadi Party had fielded a lesser-known candidate, Ajju Ishaq, who is believed to be in the good books of the Akhilesh Yadav family. Zameerullah was considered a Shivpal Yadav loyalist. Disgruntled and angry, he contested independently and secured only 10,941 votes.
Although SP and Congress were in an alliance in the previous elections, instead of posing a joint fight against the BJP, both the parties fielded separate candidates against each other. Congress’s Vivek Bansal secured 38,623 votes while SP’s Ajju Ishaq secured 42,851 votes. Mayawati led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) moreover secured 37,909 votes.
A divided opposition and self-defeating ticket distribution by SP, locals suggest, ensured an easy victory for the BJP. A few months after the assembly election in 2017, BSP’s Mohammad Furqan defeated BJP’s Rajiv Agrawal to become the first Muslim mayor of Aligarh. Furqan, a former vice president of the Aligarh Muslim University Students Union, had the Saini community supporting him after BJP denied a local Saini leader ticket. BSP had displayed its worst performance in the 2017 assembly election, winning only 19 seats out of the total 403 seats in the state.
BSP’s win in the Mayoral election in Aligarh, although boosted the morale of the party workers in the district, fared poorly in the 2019 general election which it contested in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. BSP’s Ajeet Balyan lost to BJP’s Sateesh Gautam by more than 2 lakh votes. Since then, many close aides of the BSP Mayor have switched to Samajwadi Party and rumours had it that Mayor himself will jump ships once his tenure is about to end.
“There is no point of them leaving BSP for SP as SP is already confused with so many Muslim faces they have in Aligarh. How many people will [Akhilesh] Bhaiyya accommodate,” said a Samajwadi leader with the request of anonymity.
Several other people Maktoob spoke to stressed the similar problem, that Samajwadi Party in Aligarh, and more specifically in Koil is facing with “too many Muslim leaders” problem.
Zameerullah Khan who rejoined SP earlier was expecting a ticket but now has contended himself with some promise by the party chief and will support party’s candidate Ajju Ishaq.
68-year old Anees Ahmad from Koil’s Jamalpur area has been a loyal Samajwadi supporter. This time he was dissatisfied with ticket distribution and told Maktoob, “There is little chance that Ajju Ishaq would win. Zameerullah should have been the candidate.” He is afraid BJP might win, yet again. Shahrukh, 25, is a shop owner near Aligarh’s Tasveer Mahal area, said, “Zameerullah Sahab is campaigning for Ajju Bhai, SP would win.” On being asked why he prefers SP, he adds, “I do not care who contests, I just want BJP defeated.”
Zameerullah’s mass appeal in the seat is only challenged by Congress’s Vivek Bansal.
Bansal, AICC secretary and Haryana in charge of his party, is also an alumnus of the Aligarh Muslim University and enjoys considerable support in the Muslim community. Rehan, 29, was a student in AMU until 2013, supports Congress, and says, “All professors and their families support Vivek Sahab. Vivek Sahab has good appeal among educated Muslims and is known for his secularism.”
24-year-old Sadique Ali from the Bhamola area of Aligarh agrees. He told Maktoob, “Ever since the university was closed, students have been facing a lot of issues. Many students are not able to join online classes due to internet connectivity and there are some who don’t even have access to online education. Bansal Sahab is an alumnus and well-educated person, he will surely understand our problems.”
Maktoob met many students who supported Vivek Bansal but all affirmed they were voting for SP asserting, “we cannot afford votes to be divided.”
Walking past Bhamola, Jamalpur and through AMU, when Maktoob reached Ramghat road, the preference was visibly different. A shop owner who refused to tell him his name said, “In the past 5 years, Yogi has done excellent work. Law and order is much better as all mafias are in jail.” Several of his customers agreed, adding, “BJP’s Ujjawala yojana and food schemes were very beneficial for them and BJP did this without discrimination.” One laughed and said, “earlier ration used to get taken away” referring to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s remark on the SP government alleging all the ration was eaten up by Abba Jaan.
BSP has also put up a Muslim candidate, Belal Ahmad, who would compete with SP’s Ajju Ishaq for Muslim votes. Ahmad believes Dalit and Muslim votes together is the tested formula to defeat BJP.
With SP, BSP, and Congress all fielding Muslim candidates, BJP is looking to win against a divided house – numerically and metaphorically.
Ayaz Asif is an editorial intern with Maktoob.