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2019 Lok Sabha elections: Will BJP’s game plan to divide Muslim votes work?

The BJP largely gained from the sharp division among its anti-vote banks , including the Muslims, between the two regional forces both in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections in UP.

analysis Updated: Jul 18, 2018 08:09 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Muslim vote bank,Muslims in India,BJP
Supporters of Bhartiya Janta Party wave party flags to their president Amit Shah on his arrival at Chennai.(AFP Photo)

If you can’t win the game, change the rules.

This is precisely what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is doing ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections — systematically dividing the crucial Muslim vote as it cannot win their support.

It’s a judicious move to counter the increasing possibility of Muslims uniting under the common umbrella of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which can upset the BJP’s applecart in many constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, and, by similar alliances, elsewhere.

The BJP largely gained from the sharp division among its anti-vote banks , including the Muslims, between the two regional forces both in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections in UP, which fills 80 seats in the lower house of Parliament.

The state that had sent 73 of its candidates to the Lok Sabha in 2014 is crucial to the party’s ambition of returning to power in next year’s general election. The BJP high command is keen on retaining the tally, if not increasing it.

The plan is two-fold: deepen the Shia-Sunni wedge; and create a gender divide in the community by reiterating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to delivering justice to Muslim women by banning instant triple talaq. Thus, when Modi, in his recent rallies in Muslim-dominated Azamgarh and Hindutva-smitten Varanasi mocked the Congress, describing it as a party of Muslim men, he was sending a clear message to the community.

He was demonising the Congress for obstructing clearance of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, besides Muslim men who inflict injustice on their women through instant talaq.

The Triple Talaq bill, cleared by the Lok Sabha, is pending in the Rajya Sabha. Undoubtedly, Muslim women have lauded Modi for giving them protection. But will this appreciation convert into votes in the 2019 elections?

Though there is no empirical evidence to confirm the conjecture about the silent support of Muslim women voters to the BJP in the 2017 polls, party leaders believe that their gesture did soften their intransigence against the BJP since the demolition of Ayodhya shrine in 1992.

The party leaders insist that their victory in Muslim-dominated Deoband in the 2017 polls would not have been possible without the support of Muslim women. But can the social issue of triple talaq actually bring the BJP a windfall of support at a time when party president Amit Shah is talking about temple constructionin Ayodhya before the polls and when issues like mob lynching, love jihad (a controversial term coined by fringe outfits to describe cases of what they believe are forced marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women) and ban on slaughter houses are haunting them?

The signals are conflicting!

Thus, while Meerut’s Shaheen Pervez, actively associated with the BJP women’s morcha, is confident that Modi will garner the support of Muslim women in the 2019 polls, Seema Khan, while commending the Triple Talaq law, feels economic issues are too heavy on their mind as of now. She runs the Health Charitable Trust in Bijnore.

Lucknow-based Shaista Amber, the prime mover of the ban on instant triple talaq, said Muslim women were actually grateful to Modi for his historic decision on the sensitive and social issue but any attempt to divide the community or construct a temple in Ayodhya would alienate them. She said village women were concerned about religion and welfare issues as much as they were about social status. Rehana Adib in Muzaffarnagar said women would not get misled by the BJP’s propaganda as they know their divisive politics led to mob lynchings. “Killing is bigger than sufferings,” she said. However, she admitted that some Shia women could support Modi in 2019.

The BJP’s move is tactical as unity among the Muslims may affect their prospects in at least 30 of the 80 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, besides in states like Bihar, Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. According to the census report, Muslims account for 13.5% of the country’s population and 18% in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.

According to Maulana Khalid Rashid of Farangi Mahal, oldest seminary, Shias account for 2% and 3% of the country’s and UP’s Muslim population, respectively.

He said barring some clergies, Shias were also concerned about their economic and religious issues. Even on Triple Talaq, he said, large-scale protests had been organised by Muslim women in various parts of the country against the BJP’s game plan.

He also claimed that not more than 100 Muslim women would assemble in support of Triple Talaq and BJP. “The decision of Muslims will rest on the issue of ‘rozi-roti’ (livelihood),” he said.

Political expert M Hasan, who has been travelling the state, said the coming together of SP-BSP had given a new confidence to the Muslim community which did not want to take any provocative step that could help in mobilisation of Hindus. He quoted an incident to prove the control of Shia clergies on their votes. He said in the 2017 local bodies poll, Kalbe Jawaad, Shia religious leader had issued a fatwa in favour of a candidate and described it as ‘Allah’s wish’ at the famous Dargah in Kashmiri Mohalla of Lucknow. He had ended fourth in the race.

“However, Modi will have a clean sweep in the absence of an alliance,” he added.

BJP leaders feel that notwithstanding opposition from a sizeable section of the Muslims, some silent support of women and the Shias will come their way.

They say minimal friction in the vote bank would make a big difference. It is their mass support to the alliance that worries them, especially when combined with the backing of the Yadavs and Jatavs.

First Published: Jul 18, 2018 08:09 IST