Lok Sabha Elections Results 2019: Muslim vote bank politics leads to Hindu consolidation in UP
The stunning saffron surge on Thursday proved political pundits, who believed that Lok Sabha 2019 in Uttar Pradesh was primarily about castes and not about the larger communal polarisation, wrong.
“The days of caste politics are over,” asserted Bhojpuri actor turned-politician Ravi Kishen, who won from Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat, the home town of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
From ‘muscular Hindutva nationalism’ highlighting how the ‘green virus’ was a threat to security and how it had retaliated and silenced Pakistan post-Pulwama attack to the debate of “Ali vs Bajrangbali”, BJP leaders used the narrative to arouse religious passions. The strategy seems to have paid off. “What we are witnessing is a reverse of 1990’s poll verdict when VP Singh’s Mandal (reservation) card had triumphed over ‘Kamandal’, an attempt by LK Advani, who embarked on a ‘Rath Yatra’ in an attempt to polarise the electorate on religious lines,” says Athar Hussein, director of Centre for Objective Research and Development.
What has also failed is the strategy adopted by the non-BJP parties, especially the Congress and the SP-BSP to soft-pedal secularism, underplay the minority card by keeping Muslims at bay to avoid a Hindu backlash.
One reason why while non-BJP parties tempered their pro-Muslim overtures is that the firebrand clerics also refrained from issuing ‘fatwa’ (religious edict) or an appeal for votes in favour of a particular party to prevent religious polarisation-- barring one exception by Jamaat-e-Islami (JIH) whose office-bearer Syed Sadatullah Husaini issued a circular to the organisation’s members to work for the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal (SP-BSP-RLD) alliance. For once, the minority community and its clergy maintained a studied silence even during some of the most communally-surcharged speeches delivered by the BJP leaders in UP. Even the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi, known for his penchant for making political appeals to Muslims, decided to stay away from the election arena. Describing the 2019 parliamentary elections as a “trial of the wisdom and farsightedness of the people”, Bukhari, who supported the Congress in the 2014 general election, in a statement underscored that it was difficult to ascertain which party deserved to be supported this time.
But behind the silence, there is a deep churning, a sense of high anxiety, even fear, that has gripped the minority community over the BJP storming back to power. Are we going to witness another ‘five years of exclusion and isolation’ is the fear in the minds of Muslims.
“An atmosphere of terror was created for them because of hate crimes, incidents of lynching and cow vigilantism. Naturally, they are very, very worried, fearing that a second BJP term could see a repeat of all this and bring the country closer to a majoritarian state,” says Professor Mohammad Sajjad of the History department at Aligarh Muslim University.
He says the vilification and stereotyping of the community as a ‘vote bank’ led to their increasing marginalisation and has ended up creating a Hindu consolidation in favour of the BJP. The point to ponder, warn experts, is that the alienation of a population of almost 200 million people has its own perils. He apprehend that it may lead to heightened conservatism and potentially even radicalism, which was non-existent till now.
Amidst this feeling of insecurity and trepidation, the results have a silver lining for the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. From just one in 2014, early indications from counting of votes show their representation in parliament may go up in Lok Sabha 2019. Clerics in the community, however, feel that Muslims really needed to do some serious introspection now. “Compared to past elections, less number of Muslims were given tickets by political parties and their issues were ignored,” says Maulana Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahli, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the umbrella body of Muslims on religious issues.
Muslim political representation had dropped to its lowest level in history since BJP came to power in 2014. There was not one Muslim BJP MP from UP in the 16th Lok Sabha, or lower house.They make up for 19.5 per cent of the population in UP and until the last general election, they used to play a dominant role in about 30-odd constituencies where they accounted for 15-50 per cent votes, primarily in the west and central regions.
The BJP and its ally, Apna Dal, comfortably won 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP in 2014, including the ones where Muslims made up decisive numbers like Moradabad (41.12%), Rampur (50.57%) and Saharanpur (41.95%). 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 through the 2018 by-poll in Kairana where the Opposition joined hands to defeat the saffron party was Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Tabassum Hasan. In 2019, 20 Muslim candidates were in the fray —10 each fielded by the Congress and SP-BSP-RLD alliance. BJP did not field any Muslim candidate either in 2019 or in 2014. “Muslims voting behaviour has so far been BJP-centric (negative voting) because of which they invariably vote for a party that could defeat the BJP,” says Salam Siddiqui, former principal of Mumtaz Inter College in Lucknow. He says the strategy seems to have proved counter-productive again.