Shahid M Amin:
THE sweeping electoral victory of BJP in March 2017 in UP, the most populous Indian province, has shocked Indian Muslims. BJP won 312 seats out of a total of 403 seats. Not one Muslim candidate was fielded by BJP. The outgoing ruling party SP, which won 224 seats in 2012, has been reduced to 47 seats. The losing parties (BSP of Mayawati and Congress-SP) had nominated many Muslim candidates, but only 25 Muslims got elected in the latest election, down from 68 elected in 2012. This is the lowest ever number of Muslims elected for the UP Assembly. According to 2011 census, in the whole of India, Muslims numbered 172 million out of a total of 1.22 billion (1220 million) or 14.6% of the total. But representation of Muslims in the present Lok Sabha (the top legislative body in India), in elections held in 2014, is very low: just 23 in the house of 543, constituting 4.2% of its membership.
In 2011 census, Muslims in UP numbered 38.4 million out of a total of 210 million, about 19% of the population. They are largely an urban community and form a majority only in Rampur district and cities of Deoband, Sambhal, Rampur, Amroha and Bahraich. There are 143 seats in UP Assembly where Muslim voters supposedly can act as king-makers. Out of these, in 70 seats, Muslims have 20-25 percent votes, while in 73 seats, Muslims account for 30 percent votes. But the latest election results showed that BJP won 31 out of 42 seats where Muslims comprised one-third of population. What has happened in this election is that the parties that were seen as being sympathetic to the Muslims were deserted by their own Hindu voters, who crossed party lines to vote in favour of the openly pro-Hindu BJP of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Clearly, the Modi wave has swept UP where his party in effect made the election as a Hindu vrs Muslim issue. A contributing factor for the defeat of BSP and SP was the public support extended to them by some leading Muslim religious figures including the Khateeb of Jama Masjid in Delhi. This turned out to be a siren call for them, as it hardened Hindu opinion against BSP and SP. The UP election results indicate that any party that shows sympathy for the downtrodden Muslims draws the ire of Hindu majority. Another factor for low number of seats for Muslims was that Muslim vote itself got divided between the two main opposition parties – BSP and SP. For instance, in Muslim-majority Deoband, BSP and SP secured 72,844 and 55,386 votes respectively (total: 128,230 votes) as against the BJP winner’s vote of 102,244.
On the other hand, the BJP took a policy decision not to woo Muslim voters at all and instead to communalise the campaign in a bid to polarise Hindu votes. After all, UP is the province where the Hindutva pet projects of cow-vigilantism, love jihad, “ghar wapsi” (conversion of Muslims to Hinduism) have been executed with a vengeance. This is where Ram Janambhoomi movement launched by BJP in 1990 had led to demolition of the Babri Mosque. UP has also seen multiple communal riots, including the Muzaffarnagar killings of Muslims in 2013. Not interested in parading any secular credentials, BJP launched a contest for power, based on mobilisation along communal lines.
As a further slap on the face of UP Muslims, the BJP’s choice for the post of Chief Minister is a saffron-clad politician who has made anti-Muslim diatribe as a staple of his political career. Yogi Adityanath is not only a politician but is also the Mahant or head priest of a Hindu temple in his native Gorakhpur. He is founder of Hindu Yuva Vahini, an extremist and militant Hindu youth organisation that has been involved in anti-Muslim communal violence. An opposition party CPM commented in a press release: “Adityanath is a known Hindutva fanatic who has a record of inciting communal violence, having a number of criminal cases pending against him. He also espouses extremely casteist views.” It is rare in India to have a serving Hindu priest to be made Chief Minister and that too one with a record of inciting anti-Muslim violence. His appointment is a deliberate provocation of Muslims. How Adityanath would use powers as chief executive is a deep cause of their apprehensions. The building of a Hindu temple at Ayodhya is now more than likely, which could trigger communal riots. Hindu-Muslim tensions could increase further. The spectre of Hindu Rashtra is looming in the days ahead.
As one Muslim leader stated: “The victory of BJP signals triumph of hate and it is not good news for Indian democracy.” Another leader observed: “A sizeable population is being kept away from mainstream politics.” Already, some Indian Muslim analysts are counselling Muslims to stay away from politics altogether as their presence merely polarises Hindus, who opt for parties like BJP. But this is a counsel of despair that would further marginalise Muslims in Indian polity. What is not being realised by BJP and others is that such pushing of indian Muslims against wall could induce some to turn towards extremism and terrorism at a time when groups like Daesh are gaining roots in countries around the world.
The Hindutva ideology of BJP is clearly on the ascendant in India. But even under the so-called secular governments, headed by Congress and others, Muslims were being treated as second rate citizens. Several Enquiry Commissions had found that Muslims were being treated worse than the Untouchables. Their representation in politics and government jobs, particularly in the armed forces, is much less than their percentage in population. Landlords often decline to rent or sell property to them, employers refuse them jobs. An anti-Urdu policy, based on the allegation that Urdu is a ‘Muslim language’, has been persistently followed by nearly all governments since independence in 1947. Indian pretensions of secularism have all along been a kind of fig leaf, used to cover the ill-treatment of Muslim minority in India. These developments in India after its independence prove how valid were the Muslim demands since the days of Sir Syed for separate electorates for Muslims and, eventually, the division of India.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.