Syed Abid Ali, whose family has been running a watch-shop in Cuttack for the last 70 years, isn’t too concerned about who is going to form the government at the Centre. But Ali doesn’t agree with the assertion of Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that Muslims are well protected in the BJP regime in the country.
“I don’t want to indulge in politics but we are safe and secure under Naveen’s regime,” said Ali, who is in his early sixties.
Though Ali is hesitant to discuss politics, he is clear in his mind that he will back chief minister Naveen Patnaik: the horologist says Naveen’s lifestyle has not changed over the years, he still wears the same type of chappal, white pyjamas and kurta that he did when he joined politics in the nineties and became chief minister in 2000.
In order to break Naveen’s grip on Muslims residing in the Cuttack and Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituencies, the BJP on Saturday deputed Naqvi to address the community. Naqvi spelt out why the BJP felt they could best look after Muslims: “No communal riot has taken place. Under earlier regimes, innocent people were killed by sectarian and communal disturbances.”
Naqvi also visited the Kadam Rasul Mosque, a religious place close to the heart of Muslims which houses a stone on which is imprinted the footprint of Prophet Mohammed.
Ali though didn’t seem impressed. “We are more concerned about rozi-roti. Naveen Patnaik, unlike others, speaks less. Even though there is anti-incumbency, people still support Naveen for various reasons, particularly for his simplicity. He has not changed over the years. People here will back Naveen both in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls,” he said.
Mirza Shanawaz Baig, a social worker in his thirties, agreed. “Anyone is welcome to this holy place. But that does not mean that people will support the BJP. I don’t agree with minister Naqvi’s views. We are secure under Naveen. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held his meeting here in 2018 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his government. But it failed to make any dent. The BJP lacks the organisational work to carry forward the message to the ground level,” he said.
But even among Muslims, chances are their loyalties would be divided between the BJD and the Congress. Sk Pappu, whose family supplies instruments to band parties, had praise for the chief minister. “The Naveen Patnaik government,” he said, “has announced that a Urdu university would be set up in Cuttack. Besides, he is arranging Haj pilgrimage for us every year. There is no communal tension in the city.”
But Pappu said he would back Mohammed Moquim, the Congress candidate for the Barabati-Cuttack Assembly seat.
For the Cuttack Lok Sabha seat, the BJD has fielded sitting MP Bhartruhari Mahatab, who will take on the BJP’s Prakash Mishra, a former director-general of police.
Cuttack votes on April 23