Post-UP polls, a disillusioned Muslim political class

Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims have even stopped looking at the non-BJP parties for an increased share of tickets in an election, much less secure their backing to get elected.
Post-UP polls, a disillusioned Muslim political class

Nine months since the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, the ruling BJP is ensconced in a place of comfort in the absence of perceptible challenges. The Opposition is dormant, more so after it was buffeted by significant losses in the bypolls held thereafter. However, beneath the surface calm, what is discernible is the incipient stirring in the Muslim political class which is increasingly disillusioned with the so-called guardians of their lives and properties and has begun to lose faith and confidence in the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress as the guarantors of security, economic stability, political co-existence and enhanced representation in the legislature.

Ask a Muslim to list her priorities and invariably, the four factors will be listed in that particular order. “Security” encompasses the gamut of lives led inside their homes and outside in public spaces without the fear of threats and attacks by political adversaries and people at large. UP’s Muslims have even stopped looking at the non-BJP parties for an increased share of tickets in an election, much less secure their backing to get elected.

An index of how much the community is resigned to its fate was evident when Deoband’s seminary, Darul Uloom, stated it will not oppose the UP government’s current survey of unrecognised madrasas and directed their management to cooperate with the officials. Muslims want to survive in peace.

Imran Masood, once wooed by the non-BJP spectrum for his vote-pulling skill, typified the quandary Muslim leaders found themselves in. Masood, 51, is from western UP that has the largest population of Muslims who not only influenced but determined the course of the region’s electoral politics before the BJP’s rise. A favourite of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, he quit the Congress in January 2022 and joined the SP for brighter prospects. Indeed, in the last state polls, the SP, in tandem with its allies, was projected as a comparable rival of the BJP, a perception that propelled Muslims to gravitate towards the coalition almost en bloc, despite the leaders, notably Akhilesh Yadav, conducting a markedly defensive campaign to escape being labelled as “Muslim appeasers” by the BJP. Muslims rejected the BSP as well as the Congress. The SP failed to live up to the community’s expectations. The BJP’s return, albeit with fewer seats, plunged UP’s minorities in confusion.

In October this year, Masood joined the BSP and was instantly appointed as the coordinator of its western unit, a position that helped him leverage his standing in the community to an extent. Masood’s reason for joining Mayawati’s party, despite the BSP getting just one MLA in the last election, was that she still “retained” her Dalit votes (a debatable assumption, going by hard data) and, therefore, had a base which Muslim votes could build on. For Mayawati, the BSP chief, Masood afforded a “credible” passage to re-enter the Muslim space which has been shrinking for the BSP since 2007.

The conviction of a senior leader, Azam Khan, also from western UP, and his subsequent disqualification from the assembly (he was elected from Rampur for the 10th time), was a more serious setback for the SP than Masood’s exit, especially because the BJP “celebrated” the development as a “symbolic” victory. A special court in Rampur sentenced Khan for certain remarks he had publicly made on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath before the 2019 polls. Khan had already served a prison sentence until May 2022 for a range of offences which included goat and buffalo theft.

Khan was more important to the SP not only because of his domination over Rampur but the western region as a whole, drawn largely from the fact that he set up the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, a back-up for the Aligarh Muslim University. He was charged with appropriating land for the varsity, which became an eyesore for the area’s Hindus.

Despite the legal entanglement, Khan wrested Rampur from the BJP in the 2017 Lok Sabha polls but later resigned to hold on to his assembly seat. The subsequent events reflected poorly on the SP and the worsening plight of Muslims.

The SP lost Rampur Lok Sabha to the BJP in the ensuing bypoll. The BSP did not put up a candidate because it dawned on Mayawati that she must make good her loss of minority support. While Khan fielded a confidant of his, the BJP named an ex-confidant of Khan as its nominee.

But Akhilesh did not campaign in Rampur. Worse, he forfeited his own former Lok Sabha seat, Azamgarh, to the BJP. The difference was while Akhilesh rushed to Azamgarh after the rout to assuage the “hurt” sentiments of the Yadavs because incidentally the BJP’s winner was also a Yadav, he passed up Rampur as though Khan was inconsequential.

Akhilesh’s strategy to marginalise the SP’s veterans like Khan, who were closely associated with his late father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, is understandable but at what political cost?

Indeed, after Khan’s recent conviction, Akhilesh was chary of responding while Mayawati and an SP ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, openly alleged “discrimination” by the UP government. The cracks were visible. Not only was the BSP working to retrieve the minority votes, but Asaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM chief who desperately sought a foothold in UP, spied an opening in the Rampur loss and pronounced that the SP was “incapable” of taking on the BJP. Why talk of the non-BJP parties?

Khan’s assembly seat is up for a bypoll on December 5. The BJP was resolutely contesting this seat after the Rampur Lok Sabha win and began prepping by convening a conference of the Pasmanda (backward caste and Dalit) Muslims in the city ostensibly to divide the votes.

The bypoll is a test for the SP and Akhilesh’s ability to keep Muslims on their side. If they fail, it will cast serious doubts about the viability of the SP’s core support base and force Muslims to search for options.

Rewind to history: In 1989, after Muslims turned away from the Congress because Rajiv Gandhi was seen to have “facilitated” the laying of the foundation for the Ayodhya temple, they turned to the Janata Dal. In the 1993 UP polls that followed the Babri demolition in 1992, the SP was their choice and remained so barring an occasional break. The BJP’s serial success in UP underlined the irrelevance of the Muslim vote, thereby causing a deep-seated problem for the “secular” parties and the community itself.

Radhika Ramaseshan

Columnist and political commentator

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express