Uttar Pradesh 2017 results deal a body blow to their political aspirations
By SIRAJ WAHAB | firstname.lastname@example.org
The results of Uttar Pradesh elections in which Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored a landslide victory are devastating to say the least. The colossal defeat of anti-Modi parties indicates that the majority community has decided to punish anybody that is seen as even remotely connected with or slightly sympathetic to Muslims. There was a time when Muslims would consider themselves as kingmakers. There was a time when 20 percent Muslims would decide the outcome of elections in Uttar Pradesh. That is no longer the case.
The myth of the Muslim vote is completely exploded. They are the new untouchables. They are the new undesirables. In fact, when Congress conducted an internal survey of the reasons behind the party’s defeat in the 2014 general elections — the elections that brought Modi to power in Delhi — it was revealed that the Congress Party paid the price of being seen as soft on Muslims. The inquiry was conducted by A.K. Antony. Muslims were very upset with those findings. Their anger was fuelled by the fact that they suffered immensely under the Congress rule — a rule under which hundreds of young, educated Muslims across the country were put behind bars for the flimsiest of reasons, a rule under which all that was promised to Muslims was not delivered (Sachar Committee recommendations, Ranganath Misra Commission recommendations, promise of reservations, etc.). Despite all these injustices, anti-Congress parties ran to town screaming about the alleged appeasement of Muslims.
Muslims were caught in the crosshairs. They were angry with Congress and hated the BJP for very obvious reasons. Their near-total support for Congress in the 2014 general elections despite all that the party did to them was like a poison chalice for the party. Their support alienated the majority community from the Congress Party. That same thing has now happened with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). They both openly courted Muslims. Samajwadi Party joined hands with Congress to assuage Muslim anger for the Muzaffarnagar riots. The BSP gave tickets to nearly 100 Muslim candidates. All this helped the majority community and its various castes and sub-castes to consolidate behind Modi’s party.
The BJP strategists implemented what is now known as the “60 percent formula.” According to this formula, Modi and Amit Shah concentrated on non-Yadav and non-Jatav communities. They realized that 22 percent Muslims would in no way vote for the BJP. So essentially 20 percent Muslims and 10 percent Yadavs (SP's core vote base) and 10 percent Jatavs (Mayawati’s core vote base) were isolated. They worked on the remaining 60 percent of the voters and succeeded in garnering 40 percent of this vote.
The BJP strategists constructed a narrative in which they cast Muslims as anti-nationals and painted any party that had and have any association with the Muslims as anti-Hindu. This strategy worked wonders and the parties that Muslims vocally supported were reduced to scraps.
There is another alarming aspect. In constituencies where BSP and SP fielded Muslim candidates, the non-Muslim votebank of these parties refused to vote for them. For example, in a constituency where the BSP fielded a Muslim candidate, the BSP's core Jatav voters went with the BJP candidate. As a result the Muslim candidate lost. Similarly, in a constituency where the Samajwadi Party fielded a Muslim candidate, the Samajwadi Party’s core Yadav voters migrated to the BJP candidate. Muslims became a liability for all non-BJP parties. BSP’s decision to grant 100 seats to Muslims became their undoing.
This in short has what has happened in Uttar Pradesh.
There is an avalanche of criticism within the Muslim community that the split in their votes — among SP, BSP and other smaller parties — has led to the victory of Modi. This may be true in some constituencies, most notably in Deoband. But for the sake of argument, let one assume that Muslims lost roughly 75 seats because of such division. Even then that would not have stopped the BJP from forming the government on its own. It won more than a staggering 300 seats.
Of course, Muslims need to draw their conclusions but there would be no point in self-flagellation. It will only deepen the sense of despair. There is no need to lose hope. There is a need for the community to reinvent itself and construct a new narrative to become relevant in Uttar Pradesh’s electoral politics. This is not the job of ulema or the clergy. This task requires dispassionate and intelligent young Muslims who understand the modern tools and modern idiom and modern medium, and whose belief in democracy and the country’s constitution is unflinching.
This is a very onerous task — one that is challenging but not impossible, provided the community does not indulge in recriminations and blame game. The time for that is over. Now is the time for serious introspection.
The way forward
The lessons that Muslims in North India need to learn from Uttar Pradesh in 2017 is that they should not seek tickets from any party. They should not launch or promote their own party/ies — that only helps in consolidating the majority votebank. They should reduce their visibility in the political sphere. Once they make themselves less visible, it will take the attention away from them, and then there will be less polarization. At the moment, Muslims should outsource their leadership tasks to the good people from the majority community.
Of course, other leading lights of the community will have other constructive and better suggestions and solutions. Pressure needs to be brought from within the community to bear upon the religious and pseudo-religious leadership to keep away from making political statements. The pulpits of mosques and madrassas should not be used to issue any political statements.
The community’s focus in North India should be totally on education; modern education. For this to happen, Muslims need a conducive atmosphere. For conducive atmosphere, the community needs to cultivate the ruling party which now happens to be its arch enemy. The community will have to swallow the bitter pill and convert this defeat into opportunity. How they go ahead and who takes the lead in opening the channel of communication with Modi will have to be done by the sober and articulate members from within us. Again, this is just one of many thoughts. If there is no consensus among Muslims on talking to Modi, this option should be immediately discarded. Others can come up with better suggestions and the community should welcome them.
The Muslims of India have been through very bad times in the last two centuries. They lost in 1857. They lost in 1947. And now they lost in March 2017. All this while they survived — of course, not in the best of shapes — through their grit, determination and patience. But they did.
Democracy can provide the best revenge provided Indian Muslims know how to practice this art subtly and without attracting any undue attention. Their time will come only through this instrument of democracy and they will again become the kingmakers that they have been in the last four decades in independent India.