ALIGARH: The stage is being set for a slugfest between the main opposition parties in almost all the Muslim dominated seats in western Uttar Pradesh. And as a very senior former government functionary under the UPA regime told this writer, “If the secular groups in UP are determined to commit hara kiri, there’s very little anyone can do to stop them.”

The selection of party candidates by the BSP and the Congress is a startling pointer to the manner in which these outfits are trying to decimate each other, rather than confronting the BJP, believed to be their common foe.

A quick run through the present list of Lok Sabha candidates for most high profile constituencies in this region tells the tale: that the BJP, which just weeks ago was lagging far behind, is now very much in the running in most of the 20-odd seats in the farm-rich belt of western UP.

The high drama underway in Moradabad after the Congress announced that the well known Urdu poet Imran Pratapgadhi would contest from this seat, vividly illustrates the unfolding ego battle between its dispensation and the BSP’s.

The Congress had earlier announced the candidature of its UP state president Raj Babbar from this seat – in which Muslims form over a third of the electorate. Babbar, sensing the hostility towards him as an outsider, promptly withdrew, opting instead for Fatehpur Sikri in the district of Agra.

His party, instead of drawing lessons from the episode, swiftly gave its Moradabad ticket instead to Pratapgadhi, who is yet another outsider. He hails from eastern UP, and has during the past few years become extremely popular among Muslims and non-Muslims, in the state and beyond, for his audacious earthy lyrics.

As a politician, however, Pratapgadhi’s track record is a round zero. The Moradabad electorate hasn’t forgotten the stepmotherly treatment it received during the tenure of cricket star Mohammad Azharuddin, and is understandably bittered by the manner in which yet another outsider is being foisted upon them.

What really irks them, however, is the fact that alliance candidate S.T.Hasan, who was till last week considered the sureshot winner, seems now to be on a very sticky wicket, thanks to the spoiler the Congress candidate is likely to play. Local Congressmen have over the past three days held a number of protests to vent their anger against the party leadership on this issue.

There are 13.9 lakh voters in the Moradabad constituency, with Muslim voters numbering 4.15 lakh. According to Mohammad Burhan Shamsi, a prominent figure in Moradabad, “If the Congress party fails to see the writing on the wall, it will have only itself to blame.”

Similar scripts are being played out in Meerut, Aligarh, Badaun, Saharanpur and Amroha, to name just a few. Fortunately for the alliance candidate Danish Ali in Amroha, Congress nominee Rashid Alvi sensibly declined to contest citing “personal reasons”.

Yet the mere fact that he was being pushed into the fighting ring speaks volumes about the Congress party’s reckless approach. It has now chosen Sachin Chaudhary to replace Alvi.

The president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (an umbrella for more than a dozen Muslim social and religious organisations) Naved Hamid has expressed serious concern over the damage the Congress and the alliance seem determined to inflict upon each other, and feels it will only pave the way for the BJP.

In a statement made yesterday, Hamid pointed out that by brushing aside local sentiments in Moradabad, the Congress appeared more concerned about building its own base for the future, rather than displaying a long term political vision.

It’s high time, he said, that the Congress and other secular groups realised that the forthcoming elections are not just another routine exercise, but a milestone event which could well impact future generations for decades to come.

Like so many concerned citizens and social thinkers, Hamid was of the view that even if there is no grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh, the three leading secular parties can still save the day, with some sort of tacit understanding that would still mount a major roadblock in the path of the BJP.

If the Congress, SP and BSP failed to understand the importance of blocking the BJP juggernaut in Uttar Pradesh, he concluded, they would be committing an unpardonable historical blunder.