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In UP, Muslim women key to BJP’s minority outreach plan

PUBLISHED ON JUL 29, 2019 12:07 AM IST

LUCKNOW: Of many photographs that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s media cell in Uttar Pradesh releases regularly, a recent one stands out. It shows Sunil Bansal, BJP state general secretary (organisation), inducting a Muslim woman in a veil into the party during the membership drive that kicked off on July 6.

The ongoing drive aims at enlisting nearly 1 million people from the minority communities, including an ambitious 500,000 Muslims.

The figure may sound unrealistic, given that the BJP has struggled to get even 100,000 Muslims into the party on record. But its intention to connect with the “aam musalmaan (common Muslim)” is not.

“I am with the BJP because it has done great service to the community by raising its voice against triple talaq and nikah halala, customs that exploit women,” says Gulistana, a Muslim woman from Aligarh who has signed up with the BJP.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue of triple talaq at a 2016 rally in Bundelkhand, the BJP has been trying to engage with Muslim women. Party leaders claim many women have come forward to back the BJP on the issue.

Bansal’s move to travel to a Muslim-dominated locality in Lucknow to draft in women from a community that has been apprehensive of the BJP is being seen as an extension of this outreach. “Edging closer to Muslim women is key to the BJP’s future plans,” says a party functionary aware of developments who did not wish to be named.

Several minority women from communally sensitive Aligarh have joined the BJP since the membership drive began. Two have alleged being threatened by their Muslim landlord for doing so and gone on to file a police complaint. These women have been promised houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana.

Uttar Pradesh has about 19% Muslims, whose combined vote in constituencies like Rampur, Budaun, Amroha, Bulandshahr, Muzaffarnagar, Moradabad, Kairana and Shamli, among several other places, is considered important.

Opposition parties, however, feel that the BJP is out to divide the Muslim vote. “They are dividing us. Don’t purchase any item from these traders who owe allegiance to the BJP,” Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA Nahid Hasan was heard appealing in a video that is being investigated by the police.

“Our message is simple. We won’t discriminate against anyone. But yes, we won’t tolerate if people are prevented from joining the BJP either. We wish to assure all, please join the party. We will protect you,” says Satish Gautam, the party’s Aligarh MP.

“We are modernising madrasas. There is also a proposal to include NCC [National Cadet Corps] in the madrasa curriculum,” says Baldev Aulakh, the BJP’s minority welfare minister.

A few months ago, two Muslim women in Aligarh had joined a yagna organised by a Hindu outfit to express support for the BJP’s stand against triple talaq, the practice of instant divorce.

“Our support is growing among all communities, including Muslims. Have you ever spoken to a Muslim who has got free gas connection, power, medical insurance and houses under the BJP? The satisfaction on their faces is to be seen to be believed, because they have so far been mostly taken for a ride by the Congress, SP and the BSP [Bahujan Samaj Party],” says Mohsin Raza, UP minister and the Muslim face of the government.

The BJP has always shared an uneasy relationship with Muslims, which party leaders citing Prime Minister Modi’s emphasis on “sabka vishwas”, or winning everyone’s trust, seek to correct.

The party’s showing in the 2017 UP polls, when it won in Muslim-dominated regions like Deoband, and again in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when despite a united SP-BSP alliance it did well, has given the BJP fresh hope of connecting with Muslims.

The party has two Muslim MLCs, Mohsin Raza (UP minister for Haj and Waqf departments) and Bukhal Nawab. Both can be seen visiting temples and urging Muslims to join the BJP.

“We will be visiting Muslim clerics and seeking their support,” says Haidar Abbas ‘Chand’, the party’s minority cell chief in the state.

According to Athar Siddiqui, head of the Centre for Objective Research and Development, “The BJP’s plan is to connect with Muslims, especially women. There is already some Shia support for them and the plan is to, at least, neutralise the aversion of the common Muslim that has largely been due to rivals portraying the BJP as anti-Muslim.”

Lucknow-based Shazia Hasan, who runs Jamia-Uloom Din-e-Miswa, a madrasa for girls and is a women’s rights activist too said: “I believe when it comes to the BJP there are certain stereotypes that it’s anti-minority etc. I won’t go into that. What I see is that practices like instant triple talaq and halala had indeed become tools to exploit women. If BJP wants to address them it would have our support for sure. But if you were to ask politically, I guess there are certain apprehensions among the community at large. BJP has addressed some but needs to do more before minorities embrace it in large numbers.”

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