Deoband was considered a Muslim stronghold that would be impossible for the BJP to breach because of the minority community’s perceived dislike of the saffron party.
But when assembly election results for Uttar Pradesh started pouring in last Saturday, the home of one of the world’s most-respected Islamic seminaries became the first seat the BJP won en-route its landslide victory in India’s largest state.
Deoband wasn’t the only one. The BJP won 62 of 82 constituencies where Muslims comprise a third of the population, triggering speculation that pockets of the minority community had voted for the saffron party.
But clerics and Islamic bodies analysing the results say the answer is far more complicated: A mix of a split in the Muslim vote and many in the community voting for the BJP, notwithstanding directives by local elders and leaders.
Kamal Farooqui, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s (AIMPLB) executive body said in several constituencies, Muslims had voted for the BJP.
“Musalmaan abhi aur bhi vote karenge agar BJP thoda samajhdaari se chalegi (Muslims would vote even more if the BJP moves carefully),” Farooqui told HT on phone.
“See Muslims vote like other communities on personal preferences too. It’s a myth that they vote as a bloc.”
Despite not having put up a single Muslim candidate, the BJP has now indicated that it would accommodate minority candidates in government.
Farooqui, however, made it clear that he didn’t think Muslims voted for the BJP on the issue of triple talaq, as has been speculated by various politicians.
“I am not sure if Muslims would welcome anyone tampering with Shariat. But the community is opening up to the BJP and it would have been much better had they fielded Muslims too,” he said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and various BJP leaders have called for an end to the practice of husbands seeking divorce by uttering the word “talaq” thrice, terming the ritual anti-woman.
Prominent Sunni cleric Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahal said there was no concrete evidence to establish Muslims had actually voted for the BJP by design. “In several seats split in Muslim votes helped the BJP. We are still analysing the results,” he said.
Other experts pointed at data that showed the Samajwadi Pary-Congress alliance and the Bahujan Samaj Party had jointly polled more votes than the BJP in 370 of the state’s 403 seats.
“So I would go with the theory that it’s more a case of BJP benefitting from split Muslim vote. BJP seems to have benefitted by default than design,” said Athar Hussain from the Centre of Objective Research and Development (CORD). He said the SP won all seven seats with more than 50% Muslim votes “The BJP seems to have scored in constituencies where the Muslim population was below 30%.”
But Rumana Siddiqui, former chief of BJP’s minority morcha, rebuffed the charge. “We will soon have data to prove that the myth of Muslims not voting for the BJP has broken,” she said.
A quick analysis of 2017 UP polls showed Muslim candidates lost on more than 24 seats due to division of votes among candidates belonging to their own community. Some of the seats were lost narrowly – by 500-700 votes.
The Muslim candidates in these constituencies totalled more votes than the BJP victor. In Tanda, for instance, Azeemul Haq Pahalwan of Samajwadi Party (SP) lost to BJP’s Sanju Devi by 1,725 votes. Devi polled 74,768 while Pahalwan got 73,043 votes.
Pahalwan’s figure added to the 2,070 votes polled by Irfan Pathan of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is 345 votes more than the winner.
Similarly, the presence of Mohd Nasir of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Kanth constituency made it easier for BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Singh who defeated Anees-ur-Rehman of SP by 2,348 votes. Rehman got 73,959 and Nasir 43,820 votes – a total of 117,779 that is 41,472 more than what Singh garnered.
The story is similar in Moradabad Nagar where RK Gupta of BJP defeated SP’s Mohd Yusuf Ansari by 3,193 votes. There, Ateeq Ahmed of BSP spoiled Ansari’s chances by getting 24,650 votes.
Other seats where BJP gained from division of Muslim votes include Lucknow (East), Lucknow (Central), Aligarh, Rudauli, Siwalkhas, Nanpura, Shahabad, Baheri, Khalilabad, Firozabad, Chandpur and Kundirki.