Aiming to win all 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is sharpening its outreach among the backward Pasmanda Muslims, who have benefitted from government schemes like free ration and housing.
The BJP, which had held a state-level Pasmanda Muslim meet, is now planning to hold similar programmes in all civic body areas.
The Pasmanda community has 41 "castes", including Ansari, Qureshi, Mansoori, Salmani and Siddiqui. They are in professions such as butchers and weavers, and considered most backward in social, economic and political terms. The party claims that it's working for the community's political uplift after their social and economic empowerment.
In Pasmanda Muslim meets, BJP leaders are highlighting that the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress always used Muslims as a "vote bank" and did not give them their due.
Uttar Pradesh minister Danish Azad Ansari, who belongs to the community, told PTI, "Central and state governments have worked for economic and social empowerment of Muslims so far. The BJP now wants political empowerment of Muslims by ensuring their participation."
The common Muslims are getting benefits of government schemes like free ration and housing without discrimination and it is their moral responsibility to stand with them, he said.
The president of the Uttar Pradesh BJP's minority wing, Kunwar Basit Ali, said this time strong and trusted Muslim BJP workers will be given tickets in elections to the urban local bodies.
"We have planned that people from different groups of Pasmanda Muslims will hold conferences in their societies and BJP leaders will participate in these to convey to them the party’s ideology and government plans," Ali said.
"The BJP government has done as much as it could do for the Pasmanda Muslims. Now, it has to take it from them," he said.
"The government has given benefits of its schemes to 4.5 crore Muslims in UP, they have been made a minister, head of minority commission, president of Urdu Academy, 80 per cent share to Pasmanda Muslims in various commissions and morchas of the government," he said.
Asked about the change of attitude towards Muslims, Ali said, "Most benefits of the government's schemes have also been given to Muslims."
In Uttar Pradesh, 85 per cent of the Muslim population belongs to the Pasmanda community.
Muslim voters hold influence in 72 assembly and 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Uttar Pradesh. Given the number of Pasmanda Muslims, if a party gets the support of this section, it can make a difference in the results.
According to the CSDS-Lokniti survey, eight per cent Muslim voters had voted for the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections held earlier this year, which was one per cent more than the 2017 figure.
The BJP snatched SP bastions of Azamgarh and Rampur, having strong presence of Muslim voters, in the byelections recently.
Meanwhile, the BJP's attempt to bring the community into its fold has been termed futile by the opposition.
SP MP from Sambhal, Shafiqur Rahman Barq, questioned why the BJP, which is spreading communal hatred in the country, has suddenly started liking the Muslims. The whole matter is about the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, he said.
"No matter how hard the BJP tries, no true Muslim will vote for it," he said.
Uttar Pradesh Congress leader Shahnawaz Alam took a jibe at the BJP's efforts, saying "After BJP governments’ stand on hijab and other traditions associated with Muslims, they are not going to get their votes."
He said the BJP is claiming that it has provided benefits of government schemes to the Pasmanda Muslims but the ground reality is different.
The BJP government snatched the livelihood of the Qureshi community coming from the Pasmanda section. Apart from this, the plight of weavers is not hidden from anyone, the Congress leader said.
However, the state president of the All-India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj, Wasim Raini, accused the SP, BSP and the Congress of always betraying the Pasmanda Muslims.
"If Pasmandas are getting some relief from somewhere, then shouldn't they go there," Raini asked.