LUCKNOW, India — As Narendra Modi gains momentum as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for prime minister, attention is turning to Muslim voters in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh, who have been regarding him warily because of ties to right-wing Hindu groups that have attacked Muslims.
Uttar Pradesh has 80 seats in the lower house of the Indian Parliament at stake in the national elections, the most of any state in India. Muslims make up around 18 percent of the nearly 200 million people in the state and have historically provided support for the governing party in New Delhi, the Indian National Congress, and the regional Samajwadi Party, which is currently running the government in Uttar Pradesh.
Regional parties dominate Uttar Pradesh and could siphon off votes from either the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Indian National Congress so that neither gets an outright majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. The Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., has won the parliamentary seat of the Lucknow district for the past several terms. Other districts in Uttar Pradesh are less settled.
Winning over Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh requires a more complex strategy than just fielding a Muslim candidate, because they don’t vote as a bloc and they don’t base their vote solely on religion.
The raised sign for Avadh Point on Victoria Road in Old Lucknow is missing two letters, the “O” and the “I.” The “D” in Avadh also hangs precariously, as if it is ready to become the third. The three-story building was constructed in 2005, but it stands dilapidated, walls thinning and paint peeling, as if it is as old as the Awadh culture it’s named after.
Since Nov. 6, the start of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar and the period of mourning observed mostly by Shia Muslims, several figures are making their presence known at Avadh Point and other areas deemed sensitive in Lucknow for the next two and a half months: police officers.
“All the mess starts from here,” said Zeeshan Ansari, 21, a Sunni Muslim and recent college graduate who lives in the neighborhood. He was sitting on the patio of Avadh Point, gazing at the fruit vendors, shared auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and throngs of people sharing the road in front of him.