Varanasi: “If Varanasi progresses so will we,” feels a large chunk of Muslim weavers here as most of them steer clear of openly criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The reason for their unhappiness with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is twofold: firstly, there’s been a dip in demand for their Banarasi saris post the note ban; secondly, they are unhappy with how their concerns have been handled so far.
Abdul Rauf, a noted handloom dealer, is disappointed over the Prime Minister’s handling of weavers’ concerns but says he continues to have hope in him. Rauf speaks for the city’s famous silk weavers belonging to the minority community, many of whom refrain from criticising Modi in a manner one finds in other places.
“He is our prime minister. If Vanarasi progresses, then so will we. But BJP does not like us,” says Rafiq Ahmad, a septuagenarian trader in Madanpura.
Muslims, who comprise 20 per cent of the population in Modi’s constituency, appear to be solidly behind the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, virtually ruling out any serious split in their ranks on March 8, when the city goes to the polls.
A split in their ranks in 2012 was the major reason behind the BJP’s win in all three assembly seats falling in the city.
Asked if they would vote for Modi, whose road show on Saturday passed through some Muslim localities and drew good response, 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?”
Zubair Ahmad (26) says in a lighter vein that even if some of them say they have voted 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”.
Rafiq Ahmad says it has been after a long time that Muslims are united in supporting one candidate (SP-Congress nominees) in Varanasi as they used to be divided between these two parties, who always contested separately.
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 has deployed its top leaders, including several Union Ministers, in holding small and big public events targeting different sections of people.