Fear of polarisation tempers Opposition’s Muslim outreach
Bhadarsa (Faizabad) Aggressive Hinduism has left the Muslims in a quandary in Uttar Pradesh, where until the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, socialist and centrist political groups used to make a beeline to the community’s doorstep at election time.
The growing consolidation of Hindus under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the so-called soft Hindutva it has engendered among its political rivals is contributing to a sense of insecurity among Muslims in India’s most populous state, which elects 80 members to the 543-member Lok Sabha.
Mufti Zulfiqar Ali, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, said: “The BJP has unleashed a false propaganda against rival parties and created such an atmosphere that even they are compelled to toe the BJP’s line to get support of the people. How much it would work to their advantage is hard to say.”
Some Muslims have started describing themselves privately as the new political untouchables. No party is openly courting them except in constituencies where they make up a decisive majority in the electorate.
Issues such as the implementation of the Rjindar Sachar Committee’s recommendations to improve the Muslims’ social, economic and educational status have disappeared from the political discourse in Uttar Pradesh. Politically divisive slogans such as ‘kabristan” vs. “shamshan” (graveyard vs. cremation ground) are the new reality.
The fear of communal polarisation has compelled the non-BJP parties to temper pro-Muslim overtures, and once firebrand clerics have by and large gone silent. To be sure, the national president of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JIH), Syed Sadatullah Husaini, has issued a circular to the organisation’s members to work for the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal (SP-BSP-RLD) alliance.
Muslims make up 19.5% of Uttar Pradesh’s population and until the last general election, they used to play a dominant role in about 30-odd constituencies where they accounted for 15-50% votes, primarily in the west and central regions.
Political parties, barring the BJP, pampered the community by fielding more Muslim candidates every election. The consolidation of Hindus under the BJP and vertical division in their votes between the SP and the BSP reduced their influence in the last Lok Sabha elections . The BJP and its ally, Apna Dal, comfortably won 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, which including the ones where Muslims made up decisive numbers like Moradabad (41.12%), Rampur (50.57%) and Saharanpur (41.95%).
Mohammed Akeel, a student in Kaiserganj, said: “We have always been a vote bank. But today we feel our support is no more indispensable.” Not only were the three non-BJP parties — SP, BSP and Congress — decimated, winning just seven out of the 80 seats, no Muslim could make it to the Lok Sabha as the BJP swept the state in 2014.
This time around, the three secular parties have fielded fewer Muslim candidates.
In all, 54 Muslim candidates contested the polls in 2014.The SP fielded 12, the BSP and the Congress 17 and 11. Another 14 Muslims contested as Independent candidates or were fielded by smaller parties. In a small consolation, they finished runners-up in 17 constituencies.
The first Muslim to enter the Lok Sabha after BJP’s 2014 resurgence was in the 2018 by-poll held in Kairana where the Opposition joined hands to defeat the saffron party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Tabassum Hasan was elected .
In 2019, 20 Muslim candidates are in the fray —10 each fielded by the Congress and SP-BSP-RLD alliance. BJP has not fielded a Muslim candidate in 2019; it didn’t in 2014 either.
Athar Hussain, director of Centre for Objective Research & Development says, “ During the last 5 years the ideology that dominated the political discourse is perceived to be spreading hatred. The challenge before the Muslims is to stop that ideology rather than political empowerment.”
The Ayodhya shadow
A Muslim resident of Bahraich, who didn’t want to be identified, said, “It is understandable that the politics of the state has taken such a queer turn that even the non-BJP parties do not wish to be publicly identified with Muslims as they fear it might alienate the Hindus. Why? Aren’t we getting isolated in the process?”
“It’s the SP-BSP alliance representing different castes that gives us some hope, or else, the days of our social exclusion are not far away,” he added.
As you travel through the Muslim belt of the state comprising Barabanki, Bahraich, Gonda, Kaiserganj, Shrawasti and Faizabad districts, in the vicinity of Ayodhya – the epicentre of the Ram Janmbhumi-Babri Mosque conflict – one can sense the disquiet. It is more pronounced in the political arena but is deepening at the social level, too.
Most of them have moved away from the contentious Ayodhya issue that had first polarised society on communal lines. The common refrain is that they would abide by a court verdict although hardline Hindus are adamant that they want a temple to Lord Ram built at the disputed site they believe marks the birthplace of the warrior-god .
What one gets to hear in Aligarh-Agra and Meerut-Moradabad — infamous for the politics of polarisation — is also heard in Varanasi or Azamgarh.
Mufti Zulfiqar Ali of Muzaffarnagar said, “In last five years, Muslims had no voice or say on any matter. Their complete marginalisation in every sphere is the only reason behind their determination to defeat BJP.” He says it was unfortunate that the Congress did not join the SP-BSP-RLD alliance. It may not have won many seats but would have strengthened the alliance in the fight against the BJP.
Bhadarsa, on the Faizabad-Prayagraj road, is about 30 km from the disputed structure in Ayodhya. Every time the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its associates campaign for a Ram temple in Ayodhya, truckloads of policemen reach the town, which was witness to communal riots in June 2012 over a Durga puja procession. Two persons were killed, several were injured and shops razed. The provocation was the gulal (coloured powder) that had fallen on the Nawab Khan mosque in the town.
For years, all mosques were covered with a tarpaulin. But soon the 30,000-odd population had learnt from their past mistakes. Now the de-facto chairman of the nagar panchayat, Rashid, leads the processions. “We don’t cover the mosque as Muslims lead the procession. Hindus are also careful.” Election time divides them.
“Polarisation is not so acute as it was in 2014 when some Yadavs also supported the BJP,” he said.
“We are supporting the alliance in a direct contest with BJP. Congress nominee Nirmal Khatri is seasoned and sophisticated but lacks support of other castes,” he added. Jarwal is a town in Kaiserganj with 80%Muslim population. Though the 20%Hindus by and large voted for Narendra Modi in 2014, this time, a section is in favour of the alliance along with Muslims. Both Qamrul Hasan and Arun Kumar Yadav say the divide is only political, otherwise they are together. Yadav says, “We all know who votes for whom. Muslims do tactical voting, we go to SP while Brahmins and Banias vote for the BJP.”