Muslims are one of the important constituents in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, constituting about 19% of the population of the state but surveys and different voting patterns suggest that, unlike in the previous elections, the community will not vote homogeneously for any political party in the state in the 2022 assembly elections. Like others, the community has certain other considerations to vote for in the next state assembly election. This change in attitude started taking shape through the last two elections more evidently.
A survey by Pew Research Centre on religion, caste, nationalism and attitudes in India suggested that around 20% Muslims voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. About 8% of them voted for the BJP in 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election as per some other estimates. But for the 2022 elections, the situation is going to be different on many counts and more Muslims may vote for the BJP, which was earlier projected as the biggest enemy of the community.
So, what has changed? There are several factors to decide which way Muslim voters, who otherwise formed an anti-BJP bloc, would go. Looking at the past pattern, the community was deciding on voting the party that was hinted at the khutba (sermon) of the Friday prayer, which was obviously to vote the party defeating the BJP candidate after 1989. But some kind of fragmentation has started taking place in the homogeneity of the Muslim vote-bank as various sections in the community realised and questioned problems that were not common or shared within the community. They certainly need to be addressed specifically, varying from pocket to pocket and people to people. Giving the devil its due, as social media incites them, it also empowers them by disseminating information about development works carried out to benefit the community. They have started realising that voting en masse failed to serve the purpose of addressing the issues of community per se. It may give them the government of their choice but not the government sensitive to their cause. Most of the time, the voting pattern of the community is based on emotive factors, which are unproductive.
How are they divided? A big section of Muslim women is not only comfortable but vocal in support of the BJP on two counts — the fulfilment of the promise of making a law against triple talaq and ensuring the sex’s safety and security; a section of Muslim youth is buying the argument of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen leader Assaduddin Owaisi that Muslims need their own leadership; the biggest section is still favouring the Samajwadi Party as a messiah of the community. Meanwhile, an aggressive Indian National Congress has confused a minuscule section, upper class basically, of Muslims who get along well with the upper caste Hindus. There is a new section in the community that is happy with the law and order situation in the state. And there is a section that would be voting for the candidates from the community irrespective of the party fielding them.
There is no doubt about the SP, BSP, AIMIM and INC fielding Muslim candidates, but the BJP will be fielding some candidates in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election as well. A United Kingdom-based Indian-origin Muslim leader of the Conservative Party has been entrusted with the responsibility of selecting Muslim candidates for the party. He is not only meeting prospective candidates but also visiting those places from where the candidate plans to try their luck at the hustings.
Different political parties have different ways to woo Muslim voters. If Akhilesh Yadav and his alliance partner SBSP leader Om Prakash Rajbhar are invoking Jinnah in their public meetings, the BJP and its ecosystem are showing its work like enacting the triple talaq law, the Mudra scheme of easy loans to budding entrepreneurs, the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and many other schemes equally benefitting Muslims. The INC and AIMIM are resorting to the old strategy of frightening the community of the BJP by branding it as a Hindutva party. One of its leaders, Salman Khurshid, has gone to the extent of equating the ideology with Isis and Boko Haram.
But voices coming from the community tell a different story. There were no Shi’ah and Sunni riots in Lucknow for the past seven years, which had been an annual affair during the SP and BSP eras. The silence of Sunnis over the terrorist attack on Shi’ah mosques in Afghanistan has hurt the community hard for not standing with them as fellow Muslims. A section in the community is realising that the government is tough on such elements that cause trouble in society. A section of pasmanda (backward) Muslims like Behna, Faquir, Dafali, Julaha and many others, who were traditional voters of the Samajwadi Party, are disillusioned.
The BJP played an important role in the drastic change of rupturing the very perception of homogeneity of the Muslim vote-bank that can determine victory or defeat of a political party by their shift. For the first time, in 2014, the BJP demonstrated that if broader Hindu mobilisation emerges in the favour of the party, there was no need to run behind Muslim votes. The BJP also proved that there was no need for appeasement politics to bring Muslims under the domain of development, alongside other communities. This has started a new kind of politics from stopping iftar parties to temple visits.
The BJP has brought about two considerable shifts in the political scenario of the country in general and Uttar Pradesh in particular. First, it challenged the overestimation of Muslim votes and it proved that appeasement politics for electoral victory in a democracy was not the brand equity of any political outfit. But the opposition in Uttar Pradesh in no way would shun practising their conventional methods of Muslim mobilisation. Though the aggressive rise of BJP’s politics has made them a bit defensive about their appeasement politics, prompting them to project their soft Hindutva image, these parties are still heavily dependent on their conventional political strategy, which is riding piggyback on secularism.
But this time around, Muslims are unlikely to behave as a cohesive, homogeneous vote bank. Not only Muslim women but also the upper middle class, along with a section of poor and downtrodden Muslims, will move towards the BJP due to developmental schemes, only some of which have been named above. However, it is too early to judge at this juncture whether Muslims will respond as an identity-craving community or as development-aspiring people in the Uttar Pradesh assembly 2022 election, but it is certain that they will not go the same way as they were traditionally treading.