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Muslims Not A Monolith Vote Bank, Neither Do They Vote Unitedly To Defeat BJP

Muslim community doesn’t vote in a block. Rather, any perceived threat of their consolidation leads to a counter-consolidation among the majority community.

Myth Of The Monolith
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In the run up to the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Hyderabad MP and president of AIMIM, Asaduddin Owaisi, during a public rally at Ferozabad, offered his shoulders to the beleaguered Muslim community with an emotional appeal: “Mere saath aao, main apne kandhe par bithaunga (Come with me, I’ll carry you on my shoulders).” This was in reference to videos circulating on social media of Muslim leaders getting snubbed at public rallies of other political parties. The crowd responded by raising their hands. Muslims, who constitute a fifth (19 per cent) of UP’s population, may be tipped in stories of being the “deciding factor” in over 100 ass­embly seats, but their representation in the state assembly is not in proportion to their population. As UP goes to the polls again—spread across seven phases—political analysts have written a lot about Muslims, their voting pattern, preferences and issues. There are several misnomers attached to Muslim voters. Past election results do not support these assumptions. 

Are Muslims a vote bank?

That Muslims don’t constitute a monolithic vote bank is a reality. Their voting pattern is div­ided on intra-Muslim following, caste identities, economic class, OBC and forward classes, local leaders with limited influence on them, and even local issues. These thin lines of voting division are not visible to TV analysts parachuting from Noida, who often end up classifying Muslim voters as a monolith. The issue is not rocket science and just needs a simple example. In the 2012 assembly polls, Imran Masood, then in Congress, polled 84,623 votes in the Nakur seat of Saharanpur district. He lost by 4,564 votes to BJP candidate Dharam Singh Saini. In the same constituency, Feroz Aftab of SP got 29,503 votes. This is not just a case of vote division, but a clear example of caste factor and local dynamics of the district.  There is a division between Pasmanda and Ashraf Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, and it applies to UP as well. There are several outfits of Muslims based on their caste and profession that often pull voters in their direction. One example is the Ittehad-e-Millat Council, formed ahead of the 2012 assembly polls in Bareilly. Headed by cleric Maulana Tauqeer Raza, the outfit disturbed the overall outcome in the state, and even went on to win a seat, Bhojipura, in the district.

Usually, a monolithic vote bank easily takes shape when there is a leader or ideology that unifies the community. For Muslims, there is no such leader who holds sway across the length and breadth of the state. Owaisi is slowly trying to fill in that space. Muslims often take into consideration local dynamics and their relations with local leaders while voting for an assembly seat. Two ass­embly seats that are separated by just a road, often end up revealing different voting patterns of the community. For example, the two assembly seats in Azamgarh district—Gopalpur and Mubaraqpur—share boundaries. For the past two elections, in 2012 and 2017, Gopalpur has been voting for the SP candidate, while Mubaraqpur is electing the BSP candidate, both Muslims. This establishes that Muslims do not vote en bloc. Another point often raised is that giving high representation (fielding more candidates) garners the Muslim vote. This also does not stand the test of time. BSP nominated more Muslim candidates in elections following 2007, but its Muslim candidates getting elected fell.

The thin lines of voting division are not visible to TV analysts parachuting from Noida, who often end up classifying Muslim voters as a monolith.

Further, Muslim votes split easily. In the two previous elections, there were over 20 seats each where Muslim candidates jointly polled more than the winner. This analogy cannot be applied equally, however, as the candidate also banks upon other groups that support his party. Splitting of Muslim votes also underlines that Muslims do not always vote unitedly to defeat BJP. Rather, their voting pattern is decided by local issues as mentioned above.

Muslim leadership

UP has witnessed tall Muslim leaders, but their appeal often waned beyond a certain area. This excludes the few stalwarts who won from different seats after Independence. The real churning in the state began in the 80s, with the decline of Congress, the Mandal Commission agitation and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Regional parties like SP, BSP and BJP arose, and Congress was totally eroded.

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Prior to this, in 1964, Dr Syed Mahmood presided over a convention of Muslims in Lucknow that gave birth to Majlis-e-Mushawarat. It indirectly participated in the 1967 elections and opp­osed the Congress, but the candidates who won with Mushawarat support failed to live up to exp­ectations. That was when it was decided that direct intervention in elections was the need of the hour. It resulted in the emergence of an int­elligent leader, Dr A.J. Faridi, who founded Muslim Majlis in June 1968. Muslim leaders from across the country toured UP, including then AIMIM president Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, popularly known as Salar-e-Millat for creating awareness among Muslims. Muslim Majlis contested the 1971 Lok Sabha polls from five seats—Kanpur, Ghazipur, Amroha, Muzaffarnagar and Moradabad—all with sizeable Muslim populations. It lost badly. The highest votes polled were 18,154 in Amroha. Surprisingly, Congress withdrew from the seats where Muslim Majlis contested, and Majlis extended it support in other seats.

Then Majlis entered into an alliance with BKD and SSP for the 1974 assembly polls, with its candidates contesting on the latters’ tickets. The Majlis’s charter of demands was included in the latters’ manifestos. Majlis contested 26 seats on the BKD ticket. It won three, even as its leader Habib Ahmad was defeated in Allahabad (now Prayagraj) by just 176 votes. One Dalit, Nanhelal Kureel, was also elected from Barabanki. The other two victories came from Azamgarh and Ghazipur. Unfortunately, Dr Faridi passed away on May 19, 1974. Later, Majlis supported the Janata Party and in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls, two of its leaders were elected from Sultanpur and Fatehpur. One of them, Zulfiqarullah, was even made a Union minister of state. Thereafter, it continued its support to Janata Party and got 10 seats in the alliance for the next assembly polls, in which it won eight and got a ministerial berth.

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Since then, there was a lull as Congress returned with gusto, leaving little space for others. Whispers of a revival began after the dust had settled in 2012. The Peace Party, founded by Dr Mohd Ayub, entered the fray and surprised by winning four seats, with three of the candidates Muslims. However, the ground slipped and it was wiped out in 2017. Before it, there had been another intervention in the wake of the Batla House encounter, by Azamgarh-based cleric Maulan Amir Rashadi, who had founded the Rashtriya Ulema Council. But it has failed to win any seat so far. Rashadi himself lost to SP sup­remo Mulayam in 2014 from Azamgarh.

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Owaisi’s venture is now armed with the latest tech tools, proper infrastructure, resources and a dedicated team—something previous endeavours lacked.

But Muslim leaders in all other parties flourished, with many of them holding significant clout both within and outside their parties. However, their role did not go beyond their parent party. Often, they towed the party line whenever any issue related to Muslims sprang up.  While none of these interventions may have fetched desired results, they managed to infuse confidence in UP’s Muslim youth. Emergence of smaller political parties having support of a particular caste or community, also provided the much-needed impetus to Muslim politics. The demand for “apni qayadat (own leadership)” is now fast gaining ground. This couplet, which goes: “Na hamsafar na kisi hamnashin se niklega, hamare paanv ka kanta hamin se niklega. (No companion or associate can help us in our woes, our sufferings will be cured by ourselves)”, is often raised during meetings of Muslim leaders.

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Recently, when Owaisi was returning from Asmoli after an election meeting, he stopped at a mosque near Sambhal to offer namaz. When he emerged from the mosque, a man on a tricycle signalled him, only to offer a Rs 100 note. When Owaisi assured him that he didn’t need this donation, the differently-abled person pressured him to accept it as a token for apni qayadat. This is not an isolated incident. AIMIM leaders confirmed that Muslim leaders of other political parties often meet them and express support for their issues and demands. “We are not here to become leaders; we want leaders to emerge from here itself. Time has come when Muslims can’t be asked to keep quiet with the threat that BJP will win otherwise. BJP is winning every election in UP since 2014, which means so-called secular parties who corner Muslim votes have failed to stop BJP,” Owaisi told Outlook.   

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Raising demands for equal representation, dignity, education, health and civic infrastructure, Owaisi has carried the experiment forward. His venture is now armed with the latest tech tools, proper infrastructure, resources and a dedicated team—something all previous endeavours lacked. Further, Owaisi’s oratory skills that are appreciated even by detractors, are now making an impact among Muslims. Many of his speeches have over three million views, highlighting his popularity. AIMIM is among the many parties vying for the Muslim votes in UP.  It made its debut in the state in 2012 but failed to win a single seat. Once again in 2017, Owaisi’s entry brought Muslims to the centre stage, spreading uneasiness among other parties.

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2022 polls

Much is being said about Muslim consolidation in this election. Issues being discussed are termed as decisive—CAA/NRC agitation, hijab and other controversies. However, the public frenzy always remains like a bubble which cannot sustain for long. In 1992, following the Babri Masjid demolition and violence across the country, similar consolidation among Muslims was expected. But the election results did not provide a clean sweep to the SP-BSP combine. Instead, BJP won 177 seats with 33.30 per cent vote share and emerged as the single largest party, while SP with 109 seats and BSP with 67, together polled 29.06 per cent. Though eventually SP and BSP jointly formed the government with the support of others, even the projected extreme consolidation of Muslim voters couldn’t prevent BJP from coming first. That’s because any minority consolidation leads to a majority consolidation. That’s what we saw in the 2017 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Mere support of Muslims is no guarantee for non-BJP parties to sail through.

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