New Delhi, May 16 : Unlike in the Bihar Assembly elections, the Muslim vote has split between the Congress and the SP-BSP alliance in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid says.

In an interview with IANS, he said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was changing the course of the debate during campaigning because he knew he is "losing and is desperate".

Khurshid, who contested from Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh, said the Muslim community in the sprawling state has not voted strategically as it did in the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections and that the votes have fragmented in several places.

"Muslim vote has varied. It has gone very, very concentrated, it's gone to Congress at some places. At some places it is divided between the Gathbandhan and the Congress. At some places it may have predominantly gone to the Gathbandhan. But Muslims did not vote like they voted in Bihar. Last time, Bihar had voted strategically, there was no fragmentation," he said.

The Congress leader said that the minority vote's fragmentation was a sad affair.

"Muslim voter is in two minds in many, many places, which is a sad thing because this is a parliamentary election and their future frankly lies with the Congress or a national party. Fragmenting their vote is not such a good idea but you can't blame the voter. The voter is concerned about local affiliations and other things," he said.

Khurshid, a former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief, said his was a closely contested battle. "I don't know how the dust will settle."
The Congress leader also said that this time Modi was not in control of the campaign as he was in 2014.

"He is changing course because he is desperate. He knows he is losing and he is desperate. You just compare the last campaign with this campaign. He was in control of that campaign but he is not in control of this campaign," he said.

Asked if Congress' thrust on economic issues and those concerning the common man had been lost due to perceived name-calling towards the last phases of Lok Sabha polls, Khurshid said his party had stayed on course.

"Till the time we fought our election, only core issues were there. In later stages, Modi had gone on to an extreme, one or two things have happened. By and large, we have been able to stick to what we were doing... I think we have stuck to our strategy," he said.

Admitting that there had been some sparring between the leaders of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said the Congress candidates were told by the leadership to stick to the manifesto.

"Modi was pushing it very hard but... we stuck to our brief. It was a fairly comfortable argument about the issues we raised and we got a good response."
He said the Congress fought the election the way it had planned. "We have no regrets about anything having got out of our hand or gone wrong."
On the controversial remarks made by Sam Pitroda and Mani Shankar Aiyar, he said these were blown out of proportion and were non-issues.

"The media blew them out of proportion and the party had no option but to take a position. Frankly (these were) non-issues. These are things that have already happened. Whatever is the Congress position on all these things is well known," Khurshid said.

He said dragging something out of context was unfair. "Modi pushes it, he is still saying it in his speeches and the media picks it up. Pitroda apologized, nevertheless, he (Modi) is still going on."
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at prashant.s@ians.in)

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