VARANASI: Muslims turned out in large numbers as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's roadshow passed through their localities here but the goodwill gesture may not translate into votes for BJP candidates in his parliamentary seat.
"Hamare Prime Minister hain. Banaras taraqqi karega to hum bhi karengein. Lekin BJP wale humein pasand nahi karte. (He is our prime minister. If Vanarasi progresses, so will we; but the BJP does not like us), says Rafiq Ahmed, a septuagenarian trader in Madanpura.
Muslims, comprising 20 per cent of 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.
A division in Muslims votes in 2012 played a role in the BJP's win in all three Assembly seats falling in the city. 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?"
If some Muslims give credit to the Prime Minister for launching developmental schemes aimed at Varanasi and increased cleanliness, there is also 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."
Rafiq Ahmed says it is 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 deployed its top leaders, including several Union ministers, in holding small and big public events targeting different sections of people.
(With PTI inputs)