Don’t communalise UP polls
On Sunday, during a public speech, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister (CM), Yogi Adityanath, referred to his government’s pro-poor schemes. This was a legitimate claim of what he sees as an achievement. But then, introducing a communal subtext to claims over welfare achievements, particularly the distribution of free ration, the CM said that in earlier governments, it was only those who said “Abba jaan”, an Urdu salutation for one’s father used by Muslims, who absorbed all the ration.
This is problematic at multiple levels. For one, it is not true that somehow food distribution welfare schemes were only targeted at minorities in the past, with the poor from the majority community excluded. While there were inefficiencies in public distribution and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can take credit for any improvement, this must framed around the issue of governance. Two, the CM made a clear attempt to introduce religion-based divisiveness in popular consciousness. Three, the fact that the crowd listening to the speech roared in approval at the remark showed that it is not just at the top, but at the base, that such sentiments targeted at minorities exist. All of this is happening in the run-up to the 2022 UP assembly polls. It is not surprising that the BJP — which capitalised on the Muzaffarnagar riots in the 2014 elections, the perception of the Samajwadi Party (SP) government being “pro-Muslim” in 2017, and nationalism that was laced with majoritarianism in 2019 — is once again attempting to consolidate the Hindu vote.
On the other side of the political divide, there is an equally troubling effort to consolidate the Muslim vote. This has taken the form of provocative statements by Asaduddin Owaisi, whose party is contesting the UP elections as part of a fringe alliance. The SP, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress are conscious that any visible attempts to woo the Muslim community as a bloc may alienate Hindus — but all these parties have had a track record of wooing the most reactionary elements among the minorities to win over their vote. And this time, they are hoping that there will be minority consolidation behind them, but silently so. All of this paints a troubling picture. The BJP’s explicit attempts to communalise the UP polls by mobilising Hindus, and the Opposition’s implicit hope to do so by winning over Muslims, is dangerous. Instead, the state’s political discourse should focus on questions that matter most for its citizens — of public health, livelihoods and jobs, justice, price rise, and equitable representation. All parties should resist the temptation to fight the elections on the Hindu-Muslim axis.