FAIZABAD, Uttar Pradesh – Patchy blue walls, a sagging couch, a mouse that stared from one corner, a portrait of the Dalit icon, B.R. Ambedkar, and a painting of Nishad Raj, who, Hindus believe, ferried Lord Ram across the Ganga — all this is part of Bazmi Siddiqui's war room for the Uttar Pradesh polls.
This is the first time in decades that a mainstream political party has fielded a Muslim candidate for the Assembly seat in Ayodhya. Local observers say that it is the first time since Independence.
In a recent conversation with HuffPost India, Siddiqui, who is standing for Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, said that his victory would change how the world sees Ayodhya.
"Since the fall of the Babri Masjid, people have linked Ayodhya to the fighting between Hindus and Muslims. But there is more to Ayodhya than one mosque and temple. If I win then the story would change. People will say that Hindus have elected a Muslim. It will be a new chapter of peace that we will write together," he said.
There is more to Ayodhya than one mosque and temple. If I win then the story would change.
Siddiqui is among the 97 Muslim candidates that Mayawati is fielding in an attempt to woo more Muslims to the BSP than her rival Samajwadi Party.
The 31-year-old candidate, who recently celebrated his tenth marriage anniversary, is the father of three girls. He lost interest in his studies after class eight and dropped out of school. He then spent most of his time helping his father run his cycle agency and dabbling with social work. "I always wanted to join politics. I like the BSP because the internal and external discipline of the party is so strong. There is only one leader, respected sister Mayawati. I've been with the party for 11 years now and will serve it for the rest of my life," he said.
In October, last year, an FIR (First Information Report) was lodged against Siddiqui after a woman accused him of taking her to Lucknow and raping her. Siddiqui denies this and claims that his rivals have tried to trap him. He also claims that Mayawati carried out an independent investigation, which confirmed his story of being at a party event in Sultanpur on the day of the alleged offence. "I'm a father of three daughters, my political career is moving. Why on earth would I do something like that? I would have to be completely mad," he said.
Ayodhya is a constituency of about 3,50,000 voters. There are around 55,000 Muslims and 85,000 Dalits, which make up about 40 percent of the constituents, according to Siddiqui's calculation. By fielding a Muslim candidate, Mayawati, who already has a hold over the Dalits, is making a serious play for the minority vote.
But the BSP has never won in Ayodhya, which has been represented by the BJP since 1991, with the exception of 2012 when the SP took the Assembly seat.
Get Over And Move On
Siddiqui's two-room office is situated near the Reedganj Chauraha, next to a temple, with a large poster of Mayawati dominating the entrance. He was around six or seven at the time, but Siddiqui recalled that he was standing on the same street on the day that the Babri Masjid was demolished on 6 December 1992.
"I saw outsiders raise slogans here. It was outsiders that demolished the mosque. The people who live here were helping each other. I saw this with my own eyes. Where there were more Hindus, they were hiding Muslims. Where they were more Muslims, they were helping the Hindus. I saw this in 1992, I remember it very clearly," he said.
Where there were more Hindus, they were hiding Muslims. Where they were more Muslims, they were helping the Hindus.
The fall of the Babri Masjid plunged the country into one of its darkest periods of communal violence and changed the political landscape in Uttar Pradesh, ushering in regional parties like the SP and the BSP. But 25 years after the 16th century mosque built by Mughal king Babur was demolished, Siddiqui believes that it is high time that everyone gets over the dispute and moves on.
"As far as the question of the temple and mosque is concerned, I think that the issue was laid to rest several elections ago. Even the BJP people know that. They include it in the manifesto once the elections come around and then they forget it. Polarization has been low, this year, at least in these parts. Even BJP is not doing it so much this side," he said.
I think that the issue was laid to rest several elections ago.
When this reporter pointed out that BJP President Amit Shah and U.P. State President Keshav Prasad Maurya had both spoken of the Ram Temple in recent days, Siddiqui said that it had no impact on the ground. "You are saying the same thing one time, two times, three times, in one-way or the other. But there is not a thing you can do about it. In the end, the Supreme Court has to decide," he said.
Would Siddiqui be disappointed if the Supreme Court were to decide in favor of a temple? "Not at all. The decision will come based on evidence and facts," he said "Around 55,000- 60,000 Muslims live peacefully in Lord Ram's birthplace and that is what really matters," he said.
Around 55,000- 60,000 Muslims live peacefully in Lord Ram's birthplace and that is what really matters.
What's The Pitch?
Siddiqui is campaigning for 15-hours a day, taking only a few short breaks to eat. But BSP candidates face a unique situation in having to campaign because the party has not released a manifesto. "All I tell the voter is that you have given an opportunity to all the other parties, give me an opportunity as well," he said.
Even though the BSP had never won in Ayodhya, Siddiqui said that Mayawati had organized a 14 kosi parikrama and a five kosi parikrama. And the one big difference between the two regional parties was law and order, which, he said, was much tighter under his leader.
Referring to communal flare-ups, Siddiqui said, "There are thousands of dangas, big and small, under the SP. None when behenji was in power. All the crooks and villains make for the border."
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