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UTTAR PRADESH POLLS AND REQUIEM FOR MUSLIM LEADERSHIP

Darul Uloom Deoband, the world-renowned Islamic seminary and seat of learning.

How the Muslim leadership in Uttar Pradesh failed to sense the enormity of communal situation in the state and learnt no lessons even after getting the rude shock in 2014 parliamentary polls.  While Muslim votes got divided, BJP ran a campaign of  ‘Hindu victimhood’ among the gullible Hindus. Highly indoctrinated army of lower party leaders and its affiliate organization like VHP, ABVP, and Bajrang Dal carried sustained virulent campaign against the minority Muslims projecting them as an ‘existential threat’ to Hindus  

ABDUL BARI MASOUD  | Clarion India

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he writing was very much on the wall that the Muslim representation would take a nosedive in the new Uttar Pradesh assembly before the elections results were announced. During my coverage of the elections in the state, I got the inkling after interacting with a cross-section of Muslim community.  Muslims were not ready to learn a lesson from the 2014 General Elections’ drubbing as for the first time after Independence; they did fail to send even a single Muslim member from the state to the Indian Parliament.

Deoband, home to the world-famed Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom, represents the microcosm of Muslim voters’ attitude and behavior which is a Muslim-dominated town in Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh.

Deoband mein hamaari (Ansariyon) sankhiya 12,000 sey ziyada hai; SP-Congress ke ummedwar ke bridari ziyada nahi hain, hum BSP ko support karengey.” (In Deoband, we are the largest biradari (Ansari), so we would go with the BSP candidate). This was uttered by Ziauddin Ansari who is the chairman of Deoband Municipality when I interacted with a group of intellectuals, Ulema and common people in Deoband to gauge the Muslim mind.

When I reminded him what happened in the last general elections, asking him if he wanted a repeat of it, Ansari argued that sitting MLA Syed Maviya Ali would not be able to garner ‘Hindu’ votes whereas BSP candidate Majid Ali had the fair chance of getting Dalit votes to win the contest. There was virtual vertical spilt in the community.

The Muslim population in Deoband is always divided in (شیوخ) Shaiyokh and non-Shaiyokh said Anjum Usmani who is a retired assistant director of a Public Broadcaster and an alumnus of Darul Uloom. He told me that it is an irony that Muslims still give more consideration to their Biradari (clan) interest than the Millat (community) interest.

Thus the result of this Muslim-dominated seat did not need any explanation. The seat has  3,26,864 voters out of which Muslim electorates are 1.25  but they were divided between one perceived as ‘upper caste’ and other as ‘backward caste’ Muslim candidates paving the way for the easy victory of the BJP candidate.

It is said 140 seats are the key to winning UP where Muslim votes counted 20% or above. If Muslims had shown political prudence and maturity, the BJP would have been stopped in its tracks despite communal blitzkrieg. However, it belied the expectation as results show that out of these 140 assembly seats, BJP won 109 and its ally Apna Dal 2, while SP won 23 and its ally Congress 3, and  BSP got 2. It has been witnessed, whenever communal forces register a landslide victory, it also hits Muslim representation. What happened in 16th Lok Sabha elections as only 23  Muslims made to the Parliament and none from UP.

The constituency witnessed a voter turnout of more than 50 percent as the BJP’s Brijesh Pathak got 1, 02,244 votes while his nearest rival  Majid Ali obtained  72,844 votes and the sitting SP MLA  Maviya Ali came distant third securing 55, 385 votes who had won the seat in a bye-election held in 2015.

Though it is not for the first time that a non-Muslim was elected from Deoband, it reflects the fault line among Muslim voters that they are divided along class and caste lines as well in UP with more preference for the clan’s aspirations than the collective interests of the community.

Deoband is not only a seat of great Islamic seminary but is also home to more than 300 affiliated small and big  Madrassas. Indeed, the whole area of western UP is dotted with madrassas.  Besides this, UP houses all the big and noted seminaries of all school of thoughts including Darul Uloom Nadvatul Ulema, Misbah-ul Uloom, Jamia Darus Salfia, and Jamia tul Falah among others.

However, it seems that Islam’s universal message of equality did not reach to them. A recent study by the Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies reveals that the Muslim society in Uttar Pradesh maintains distinctions and practices discrimination based on ‘caste’. It has done a survey of 7,195 households located across 14 districts in four regions of Uttar Pradesh shows that despite Islamic sacred text’s claim of equality, the caste-based stratification exists in Muslim society. That is one of the reasons that Dalit- Muslims political alliance did not succeed much in the state.

Numerically, Qureshis and Ansaris are the two major traditional occupational biradaris in the state. Besides these, there are other biradaris like Saifi (Blacksmith), Raaian (gardener) and Salmaani (Barber) etc who are also aspiring for political space for themselves after the advent of  Mandal politics or ‘social justice politics in the 90s.

Veteran Samajwadi Party leader and former minister Azam Khan in conversation with Caravan Daily correspondent Abdul Bari Masoud (first from right).

Unlike in other parts of the country particularly in South India, in this belt biradari prejudices come into play in the fullest during the elections. Because of this, even in the worst riots affected areas of Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, and  Meerut, BJP got to home as it won as many as seats out of two dozen seats.

For example, in Sardhana (Meerut), where the riot-accused Hindutva poster boy Sangeet Som won the contest because of the division of Muslim vote between the SP’s Atul Pradhan and BSP’s Imran Qureshi. In Meerapur constituency of Muzaffarnagar, BJP’s Avtar Singh Bhadana polled 69,035 votes, the SP’s Liyakat Ali secured  68,842, while the BSP’s Nawazish Alam Khan got 39, 689 votes.

Thus, it proves that Muslims did not vote en mass even in a communally polarized area.

The same ugly spectacle of Muslim votes can be seen in most assembly constituencies where they were in a decisive positions. Another glaring example is Kanth seat in Moradabad rural area which had elected Aneesur Rehman in 2012, the votes were divided between several Muslim candidates of the SP, BSP, AIMIM and the Peace Party that paved the victory of BJP candidate. 

Aneesur Rehman lost by a whisker as he got 73, 959 votes while the victorious BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Singh 76, 307. The difference of vote was just 2, 348.  While rest of the candidates including BSP’s Mohammad Nasir got 43, 820, AIMIM’s Fiazuallah Chaudhary 22, 908 and the Peace Party got 13, 931 votes.

During the recent polls, I have traveled across the length and breadth of  UP and Ziauddin Ansari’s words were reverberating in my ears as found similar sentiments elsewhere.

In Bareilly, the seat of Bareilvi sect in the subcontinent founded by Maulana Ahmad Raza Khan in early 20th century, there was Pathan vs Ansari or Ansari vs.  Qureshi on most of the seats.  Eventually, all the Muslim candidates here bit the dust.

When I asked the great-grand son of Raza Khan, Maulana Abdul Manan Khan, alias Manani Miyan, that why there is bad blood among Muslims here, he offered no explanation.

Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

Before the run-up to the assembly polls, BJP had assiduously inculcated the ‘Hindu victimhood’ feeling among the gullible Hindu population particularly in rural areas of the state. Highly indoctrinated army of lower party leaders and its affiliate organization like VHP, ABVP, and Bajrang Dal carried sustained virulent campaign against the minority Muslims projecting them as an ‘existential threat’ to Hindus. Thus, BJP had succeeded in positioning itself as the defender of “Hindu interests” and mobilized votes of lower castes without jeopardizing caste-based hierarchy and hegemonic interests of the elite of upper castes.

It is said 140 seats are the key to winning UP where Muslim votes counted 20% or above. If Muslims had shown political prudence and maturity, the BJP would have been stopped in its tracks despite communal blitzkrieg. However, it belied the expectation as results show that out of these 140 assembly seats, BJP won 109 and its ally Apna Dal 2, while SP won 23 and its ally Congress 3, and  BSP got 2.

In the last assembly in 2012, when SP came to power with a majority, it won in 72 constituencies, BSP 27 seats, BJP 25, Congress 11, RLD 1 and others four. In 2007, BSP had swept 40% of the total seats and also won elections.

It has been witnessed, whenever communal forces register a landslide victory, it also hits Muslim representation. What happened in 16th Lok Sabha elections as only 23  Muslims made to the Parliament and none from UP.

Before the run-up to the assembly polls, BJP had assiduously inculcated the ‘Hindu victimhood’ feeling among the gullible Hindu population particularly in rural areas of the state. Highly indoctrinated army of lower party leaders and its affiliate organization like VHP, ABVP, and Bajrang Dal carried sustained virulent campaign against the minority Muslims projecting them as an ‘existential threat’ to Hindus. Thus, BJP has succeeded in positioning itself as the defender of “Hindu interests” and mobilized votes of lower castes without jeopardizing caste-based hierarchy and hegemonic interests of the elite of upper castes.

Though in a real sense, AIMIM did not play the role of a spoiler which fought only on 38 seats and was relegated to fourth to the seventh position in most of the seats. However, AIMIM’s entry into the fray gave enough ammunition to the BJP to consolidate its ‘Hindu vote bank’.

All this was happenings in and around but Muslim leaders and their organizations were oblivious and secular parties as well. However, for this debacle, some have blamed Muslim-led parties particularly the entry of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen of Asauddin Owaisi and to appeals issued by some Muslim religious leaders.

Though in a real sense, AIMIM did not play the role of a spoiler which fought only on 38 seats and was relegated to fourth to the seventh position in most of the seats. However, AIMIM’s entry into the fray gave enough ammunition to the BJP to consolidate its ‘Hindu vote bank’.

As far as Muslim leadership is concerned, most of the Muslim leaders across party-line pursue their politics more on emotional utterances or outbursts and petty issues rather than raising fundamental issues concerning to the community.  For example, in flagrant violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, Muslim children have been denied primary education in their mother tongue since independence by the successive governments, as there is not a single Urdu medium school in the state. But no Muslim politicians use to raise this important issue.

The Muslim leadership failed to sense the enormity of communal situation in the state and did not become wiser after getting a rude shock in 2014 parliamentary polls. No wonder they have paid the price.

Even a small hotelier Abid Ali in Rampur had a better understanding of the situation who said: “If the community votes do not split, the SP-Congress alliance might just do the trick.”

 

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