While an increasing section of Hindus is disturbed by the 'secularisation' of the BJP, the decision of the party to reach out to the marginalised yet majority section of Muslims seems to be paying political dividends to the party, as none of the two other strong parties in Uttar Pradesh — the SP and the BSP — had ever thought of making a distinction between upper and lower class Muslims.
The BJP's conference for Pasmanda Muslim intellectuals organised by the party's Uttar Pradesh minority cell in Lucknow in the past and the event of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Manch to be held on Tuesday has reportedly disturbed the SP and BSP after the BJP won the by-elections of Muslim-majority Azamgarh and Rampur Lok Sabha seats. A large section of Muslims supported the party that is ruling at the centre as well as the state.
Trying to change its image since 2014, the BJP has become a party representing not only the upper castes but also the backward and downtrodden, say many people in subaltern Uttar Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's urge to BJP workers to reach out to the Pasmanda Muslims, journalists based in Lucknow say, is working for the lure of privileges and perhaps even quota.
Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Brajesh Pathak recently spoke of a possibility that marginalised Muslims could be given quota, snatching it from the "creamy layer" of beneficiaries of the reservation system.
Pathak told reporters that 4.5 crore Pasmanda Muslims are beneficiaries of government schemes and 5 crore Muslims have received scholarships already.
All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj's Uttar Pradesh head Wasim Raain said that all plum posts that the Indian state bestowed upon Muslims went to the upper-class people. "People like us got a share only in the BJP government. While Danish Ansari was made a minister, Ashfaq Saifi, Javed Iftekhar, Chaudhary Kaiful Vara Ansari and Abdullah Kutty Ansari etc were posted in government offices," Raain observed.
Akram Ansari, the national president of the Momin Ansar Sabha, said that Muslims were never averse to the BJP but had "problems with its agenda". Vice-president of BJP's Minority Morcha Amil Shamsi said, "Muslims are now realising that the reason for their economic, social and educational backwardness has been parties like the (Indian National) Congress, SP and BSP."
All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj's 'chief executive officer' Mohammed Yunus said, "The Congress, BSP and SP showed dreams, took our votes and forgot their promises."
Rahnuma Qureshi, the vice president of the Qureshi Welfare Foundation, said, "The schemes launched by the BJP after forming the union government and the state, without looking at caste and religion, benefited everyone."
President of Pasmanda Muslim Samaj Anees Mansoori said, "Scheduled Castes get reservations through Article 341 of the Constitution, but a presidential order is attached to it. Only such castes that are considered to be untouchables among Hindus get their benefit. Later, the followers of Sikhism and Buddhism were included in it, but people of Islam and Christianity did not get a place," adding that this might change under the BJP rule.
Ali Zaidi, the president of the Shia Waqf Board, said, "A large number of Muslims are getting influenced by the policies of the BJP."
Minister of State for Minority Welfare, Muslim Waqf, Danish Azad Ansari said, "There was no discrimination anywhere in providing benefits of various welfare schemes of the government. A large number of Muslims did become beneficiaries." Many schemes, including pucca houses, toilets, free ration and treatment, attracted him to the BJP, he said.
Raain said, "Countrywide, people of the Pasmanda community are found mostly in 18 states, which include Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Telangana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Their economic condition in western Uttar Pradesh is better than the Muslims of Purvanchal. Their presence everywhere has the power to change the equation of victory and defeat."
Yunus shared a list of 52 'castes' in the list of backward classes in Muslim society, referred to as Pasmanda Muslims. Among them are Bhatiyara, Cobbler, Manihar, Paimdi, Gurjar, Rajgir, Gaddi, Mewali, Rangrej, Bhadbhuja, Nalband, Sikligar, Dhobi, Shah, Fakir, Hammal, Kasai, Raine, Goli, Saifi, Weaver and Sheeshgar.
What cannot be sure, though, is whether all the statements made above are public posturing. Because scenes like the following procession of Muslims abusing the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP, are rampant in the country: