Rift in UP Congress out in open after Muslim leaders express dissent in Varanasi

Raj Babbar and Ghulam Nabi Azad in Sonia Gandhi's roadshow in Varanasi (Photo: Siddhant Mohan/TwoCircles.net)

By Siddhant Mohan, TwoCircles.net

Over the past few years, political parties have been trying every trick in the book to consolidate the vote bank against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. But it seems that the Indian National Congress, the biggest political rival of the BJP, is actually losing the confidence of Muslims in eastern Uttar Pradesh, especially Varanasi.

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Various leaders and activists from Varanasi have come out in protest, alleging district as well as state Congress committees of ignoring minorities, especially Muslims.

They accused the Congress party of using Muslims only for votes and not paying them enough attention within the party or before the media.

The issue erupted a couple of weeks back when Anwar Ahmad Pappu, a senior Congress leader and ex-Councillor, wrote a Facebook post alleging that the Congress party is ignoring the minorities of Varanasi and using them only during the election time. The post went viral within hours and a great rift could be seen in the comments on the post. District Congress president Sitaram Keshari commented that with such posts, Ahmad can only be reduced to a politician of social media.

The grievance raised by Ahmad aggravated and soon, he threatened to resign from the party after the festival of Navratri. Many Muslim leaders from the party along with the Corporators joined the chorus, exposing how Muslims were being ignored by the Congress party.

Ramzan Ali, a Corporator from the Congress party and an executive body member in Municipal Corporation of Varanasi, spoke with TwoCircles.net in detail. Ali said, “A few things must be kept in mind…Muslims have been supporting Congress in the city and other areas around. In 2017 UP assembly elections, Muslim voted for the SP-Congress alliance and workers did their jobs at booth level. But after that, we did not get invitations for party meetings and public functions. Senior Muslim leaders of Congress party no longer get invited on the stage when party organises any meet or public function.”

Ajai Rai, senior Congress leader who contested against Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, lost his security deposit but the few votes he got were from the Muslim community, according to party’s booth-level workers. “Most of the votes from Muslim community went to Arvind Kejriwal then as he came across as a bigger alternative, but whatever votes Congress got was because of Muslim workers and voters,” added Ali.

At the local level, Congress party has 21 Corporators and unsurprisingly, 14 are Muslims. In the Municipal Corporation elections held last year, many Muslim candidates were elected for a second term, but the party decided not to choose any Muslim as the leader of the Congress corporators in the Municipal Corporation.

Ramzan Ali further said, “We put these issues before the leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad in a meeting a few months back, but we are still fighting to get our issue heard.

“It is not like we want a division in the party, but the party should rise above Rais, Mishras, or Sharmas of Varanasi. It should not look towards the Muslim community as a vote bank. We are mulling to form a parallel committee inside the Congress party. We will fight for our right to dissent but with all our devotion to the Congress,” Ali added.

It must be noted that it has always been a tough task for non-BJP political groups to consolidate Muslim votes in their favour. In a major road show by Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi last year, both the parties tried to keep the route intact to Muslim-dominated localities of Varanasi. A senior non-Muslim Congress leader based in Lucknow told TwoCircles.net, “Muslims have been voting for Samajwadi Party since the past few years, and the reason is within the Congress party. It has become a party driven by Brahmins, Thakurs, Bhumihars and other business classes. It does not see its voters as its leaders, and that is where such dissents erupt.”

Anwar Ahmad Pappu, the leader who posted his dissent on Facebook, deleted his post after facing pressure from senior Congress leaders. He is not working with the party anymore and is not willing to talk on the issue as well. When contacted, he said, “I have no role with the Congress party anymore. I am overseeing my business and am least involved with the party.”

When pressed, he said, “My issues have not even be addressed, let alone resolved. If the party would pay heed, then I will think about re-joining.”

Prajanath Sharma, district Congress president, refuted all issues saying that the Congress will not pay heed to social media posts. He further said, “Those who are saying such things they are being influenced.” However, Sharma did not answer the query “influenced by whom?” He further said, “We give importance to Muslim leaders according to their eligibility.”

Afzal Ahmad Ansari, another prominent Muslim leader and two-term Corporator from Congress party, told TwoCircles.net, “The worry is is real, and maybe many leaders will not speak up. We have non-political people as leaders holding posts, ones who do not even understand the booth structure. They will not understand our problems.”

Ansari further said, “When you talk about repercussions, you should understand that it is Varanasi—the Lok Sabha constituency of Narendra Modi—we are talking about. And if it goes on like this, the party may suffer again in 2019 general elections.”