New Delhi, March 12 (www.bdnews24.com): “You have not a single Muslim candidate, how will you ensure proper representation for them?” TV anchor Prannoy Roy asked BJP’s Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Former editor and now India’s junior foreign minister MJ Akbar defended the party’s anti-vote bank politics in a signed article in ‘Times of India’.
Akbar had himself attacked Modi as an editor during the 2002 Gujarat riots, only to join the party a decade later. He has been rewarded with a ministerial berth after a stint as one of the many BJP spokespersons.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, Muslims constitute 19 percent of the population.
In many urban constituencies, they account for more than 30 percent of the electorate.
Former chief minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had fielded 100 Muslim candidates in this UP elections out of the 403 seats in the state assembly.
Her electoral calculations were woven around the Muslim-lower caste alliance — not different from the ruling Samajwadi Party.
The BJP, by contrast, did not field a single Muslim candidate in the 403 seats.
But when the saffron candidates swept in all six constituencies of riot-hit Muzaffarnagar to Deoband in Saharanpur, Bareilly, Bijnor and Moradabad where Muslims dominate the demography, Mayawati alleged tampering of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) by the BJP.
She said: “Even the Muslims votes have gone to the saffron party which is unacceptable. This is unbelievable.”
For the past five years, the minority cell of the BJP’s UP unit had worked hard to establish close contact with Muslim voters, undertaking membership drives and special efforts to reach economic benefits to them.
There was much difference in the party’s state unit over whether to give tickets to Muslims.
The firebrand BJP lawmaker Vinay Katiyar (of Vishwa Hindu Parishad) insisted there was no point in giving tickets to Muslims.
But others like Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, insisted on giving tickets to Muslims.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti went public supporting Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s stand on BJP fielding Muslim candidates.
She even said the BJP had committed a mistake by not fielding any Muslim candidate. “I am really feeling sorry that we could not field a Muslim. I spoke with (BJP President) Amit Shah and (state party president) Keshav Prasad Maurya about how we could have brought a Muslim to the assembly,” she had said.
Rajnath Singh had earlier said that Muslims should have been given tickets by the BJP in UP.
A crestfallen Naqvi had said, “As far as tickets are concerned, it would have been better if the tickets were given to Muslims. We will address their (Muslim party workers) concerns by compensating them when we form the government in the state.”
BJP state executive member Romana Siddiqui was quoted by PTI as saying: “I feel the party needs more time in shortlisting a Muslim candidate for different elections. I think the party is yet to completely repose faith in Muslim candidates.”
On whether Muslim party workers have been promised any government posts or ministerial berths, in case the party forms the government, Siddiqui, said, “The party knows about the contributions made by us, and would definitely look after our interest.”
But she refused to elaborate.
Even a leader of an RSS outfit came out in support of giving some tickets to Muslims.
Co-convener of Muslim Rashtriya Manch, a pro-RSS outfit, Merudhwaj Singh Chandel, said if Muslim party workers are competent enough to test the poll waters, they must be given a chance.
“For the past few years, a number of Muslim party workers have been working in close sync with the BJP. Though the final decision to give tickets rests on the party, yet those who have rendered exemplary performance in resurrecting the organisation must be suitably rewarded and compensated, which includes giving party ticket,” he told a press conference last month.
But BJP President Amit Shah finally went with the ‘broad consensus’ in the party’s UP unit and did not give a single ticket to Muslims.
“That helped the process of religious consolidation by sending out a strong message of Hindu unity that buried the caste divides,” says analyst Ramprakash Sinha.
He said caste factors have been undermined in this UP elections because of the powerful religious messaging.
“From surgical strikes against Pakistan to promise to build Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the message BJP generated was one of aggressive Hinduism. Not giving ticket to a single Muslim helped reinforce that perception,” Sinha said.
In Manipur, only one Muslim — Anwar Hussain of Lilong– was given a ticket.
In Assam 2016 polls, the BJP fielded only two Muslim candidates who won. As many as 15 Muslims won in Assam on Congress and 13 of AIUDF tickets.
In Assam, the BJP tried to bury ethnic differences by strong Hindu messaging that brought together Assamese, Bengali and tribal Hindus. In UP, they adopted a similar strategy and it worked as well.
But much as some pro-BJP analysts insist anti-minority agenda benefits the party and exposes the politics of minority appeasement pursued by Congress and regional parties, independent thinkers appear worried.
“Denying a community any representation is a serious issue in a democracy,” said TV anchor and author Rajdeep Sardesai.
(The featured images shows Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh an Indian state with 19 per cent Muslim population)