Keeping up with UP | Analysts predict Muslim consolidation, say the community will vote en bloc in UP - Hindustan Times
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Keeping up with UP | Analysts predict Muslim consolidation, say the community will vote en bloc in UP

BySunita Aron
Apr 13, 2024 08:56 PM IST

However, any division of votes with some parties playing spoilsport, may end up helping the BJP over the opposition alliance

In the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling, the detective played by Jodie Foster, tells Dr Hannibal, a psychopathic killer played by Anthony Hopkins, about how when she was young and staying at an aunt's place, she would be terrified of the sounds from a slaughterhouse nearby. The film’s title refers to the point when the lambs stop bleating, indicating that they’ve been slaughtered. Athar Hussain of the Lucknow-based Centre for Objective Research and Development draws upon this analogy to describe the silence of voters in the ongoing election campaigns.

In this picture taken on March 14, 2024, people make their way through a busy market area near the Jama Masjid (mosque) at Rampur in India's Uttar Pradesh state. More than half the voters in India's city of Rampur are Muslim, but its member of parliament is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's muscular Hindu-first agenda. While India's 220 million Muslims make up 14 percent of the 1.4 billion population, Muslim representatives in parliament have almost halved to under five percent since the 1970s. (Photo by AFP) / To go with India-vote-religion-Islam-rights, FOCUS by Parvaiz BUKHARI(AFP) PREMIUM
In this picture taken on March 14, 2024, people make their way through a busy market area near the Jama Masjid (mosque) at Rampur in India's Uttar Pradesh state. More than half the voters in India's city of Rampur are Muslim, but its member of parliament is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's muscular Hindu-first agenda. While India's 220 million Muslims make up 14 percent of the 1.4 billion population, Muslim representatives in parliament have almost halved to under five percent since the 1970s. (Photo by AFP) / To go with India-vote-religion-Islam-rights, FOCUS by Parvaiz BUKHARI(AFP)

“Amidst all the political noise in the media and among political workers and the leaders with the first phase of polling scheduled to take place in a week’s time, I find complete silence of the actual stakeholder of the election process, the voter, very surprising. Nobody is able to understand this silence,” he said.

While some sections of voters have staged protests, for instance, Rajputs, Sainis and Jats in the western belt of Uttar Pradesh, the other major stakeholders — Muslims — are actually silent. And it has to do with fear about their future in case of a rumoured amendment in the Constitution by the government if Narendra Modi returns for a third term, or any further challenges to their places of worship.

“We had accepted the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya, but now Kashi and Mathura are also under threat. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath said at a rally, ‘After Ayodhya and Kashi, it’s now the turn of Mathura.’ Where is the sanctity of the courts then?” asked a Muslim trader from Meerut.

SM Yasin, the joint secretary of the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi said, “It will not stop at three shrines as the hardliners will look for a temple under every mosque despite Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s advice against it.”

M Abdul Salam, vice president of BJP's Minority Morcha and the only Muslim candidate from Kerala told a newspaper recently, “Their [The Muslims] perception of Modi is slowly changing. Has Modi hurt any Muslims in the last decade? Why should they fear Modi? I have met several Muslim mothers who support Modi for having abolished triple talaq. They have realised Modi has saved their daughters.”

However, many Muslims in UP contend that their houses have been bulldozed and youth booked in false cases. In an interview with HT, Imran Masood, the Congress candidate from Saharanpur, explained the Muslim mood.

He had said, “My campaign is centred around the protection of our Constitution as there are murmurs that it could be changed. If it happens, our rights will be abolished. I am trying to explain to people how it will affect their lives. My entire campaign is based on my slogan Mera Maan, Mera Samvidhaan (My Pride, My Constitution).”

The challenge before the community

Former Rajya Sabha member and one of the founder-members of the Delhi-based Indian Muslims for Civil Rights, Mohammed Adeeb, states the three main challenges before the Muslims in the upcoming elections – enrollment as voters, 80-90% polling and unity. His organisation has helped 300,000 Muslim voters enrol, he said.

Adeeb also said that Muslims have united in favour of the opposition alliance under the “Save the Constitution” slogan just as they had thrown their weight behind the Jayaprakash Narayan Movement and VP Singh's anti-corruption crusade.

He claims the first two phases of polling in UP, which has substantial Muslim votes, are going to spring major surprises and will once again establish the political relevance of the Muslims. According to him, Muslims form 26 to 52% of the electorate in 32 constituencies of the state. Adeeb says their group's entire efforts are on ensuring 80- 90% polling by the community without any split.

The strike rate of the BJP in these constituencies in 2019 was 82% as they won 28 of these seats.

While the Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded Muslim candidates in many of these constituencies, Adeeb insists that the BSP, as well as Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM, will not be able to divide the votes as the issue before them is the country's Constitution with which is linked the community’s survival.

However, a senior Congress leader from Moradabad, on condition of anonymity said he feared a sharp division in Muslim votes. “Their first choice has always been a Muslim candidate and then the party defeating the BJP. Many times they fail to make a correct assessment.”

Imran Masood, the Congress candidate from Saharanpur, had said in his interview with HT, “The PM is falsely accusing the Congress of encouraging appeasement through its manifesto... I will quit politics if they can show any sign of appeasement. It talks about the welfare of women, youth and country.”

“The Muslim consolidation will be complete. The BSP is a spoilsport but weak. Even Owaisi will not get votes in this election,” Athar Husain predicted.

Political analyst M Hasan of Lucknow concurred and said Muslims will likely vote in a unified manner.

What will division in voting do?

Rampur in west UP and Azamgarh in east UP are Muslim-dominated constituencies, which the Samajwadi Party had won in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and lost to the BJP in the 2022 by-polls.

In 2019, SP nominee Azam Khan polled 52.71% votes against the BJP’s Jaya Prada who polled 42.34% votes in Rampur. The Congress candidate Sanjeev Kapoor could not save his deposit by polling 3%. The SP won the seat by over 100,000 votes.

In the 2022 by-poll, the scenario reversed with the BJP’s Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi polling 51% votes and winning the election by 42,192 votes against the SP’s Mohd Asim Raza, who had polled 46% votes.

Similarly, in Azamgarh in 2019, former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav polled 621,000 votes and defeated the BJP’s Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua, who mustered 361,000 votes.

In 2022, Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua polled 34.39% votes while Muslims were split between Dharmendra Yadav of the SP who polled 33.44% votes and Shah Alam of the BSP, who got 29.27% votes. The seat was won by a margin of 0.95% votes.

Nonetheless, the BJP leadership’s confidence in winning West UP emanates from Hindu consolidation, which happens at the 11th hour, division in its anti-votes in a triangular contest, sabotage by BSP and AIMIM and their victory due to Ram Mandir, Kashi and Mathura. Modi, Rajnath Singh and Yogi Adityanath have all campaigned hard in the area as they know the game is tough in this region.

Sunita Aron is a consulting editor with the HT based in Lucknow. You can find her on X as @overto. The weekly column, Keeping up with UP tackles everything from politics to social and cultural mores in the country's most populous state. The views expressed are personal.

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