India polls offer scant hope for Muzaffarnagar's Muslims

NEW DELHI - For the Muslims of Muzaffarnagar in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India's general elections have very little meaning.

The wounds from - in which more than 60 people died and another 60,000 were displaced - remain fresh for them.

The three-week-long clashes between Jats (Hindus) and Muslims, the worst in India in recent years, were triggered after a Muslim boy was killed by two Hindus after they accused him of teasing their sister.

A Muslim mob retaliated by lynching the two Hindus, and then Hindus went on the rampage, destroying and looting Muslim homes and shops.

Many Muslims were forced to flee their homes and life remains a struggle for them.

- Village attacked

Arjumand Bano, 32, who is living in a makeshift camp in Shahpur village with her husband and two children, said: “Our situation is not going to change.

"The rioters forced us to leave everything and since then we have been living in a temporary makeshift camp with no future for us and our children. Whoever comes to power our condition is going to remain the same. We don’t expect anything from this election.”

For hundreds of Muslims, temporary camps have become their permanent residence over the last few months.

Asghar Ahmed, who lives with his wife and three children in a small hut, would prefer to forget the night when he was forced to leave his home after the mob attacked his village.

He knows the general elections are round the corner, but asks: “Who should we vote for? Will they deliver a better future for us? We know nobody cares for us. You should see how our family is living in such a small place.”

- 'Bleak' future

More than 15,000 people are estimated to be living in makeshift camps and their chances of moving to a permanent place in the near future are bleak.

However, the government insists adequate compensation has been provided to affected people and they are now living a normal life.

“We have given everything to the affected people as per the rules. Compensation has been distributed among those who suffered during the riots. Barring some people, most of them are leading a normal life,” said district collector Kaushal Raj Sharma.

Elections in riot-affected areas are to be held on April 10.

Many Muslims in the area say they will not vote for Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), under any circumstances and divisions in the community are likely to benefit the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

- Resigned to fate

Muslims fear that they would not be secure under Narendra Modi and hold him responsible for the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat, in which nearly 2,000 Muslims were killed.

Muslim votes are expected to be divided among the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and even the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party.

The area has a sizeable Muslim population and the parties have not been seeking votes based on any particular issues. Following the communal violence, people are now divided along communal lines.

But Muslim voters in some areas have lost faith in elections and appear resigned to their fate.

“We have accepted our destiny. Nothing is going to change for us. We have realised the fact that the political parties, who are standing for Muslims, only want votes and will forget us once the elections are over,” said 45-year-old Rahat Azim of Muzaffarnagar, who said he is undecided as to whether he will vote or not.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency