THE spectacular BJP show in Uttar Pradesh has set the cat among the pigeons. For the struggling opposition and nearly 20 percent Muslims, this victory seems even more defining than the outcome of 2014 elections.
In many ways, it is. The BJP’s victory margin in the battle for India’s largest state has been highest so far. The party couldn’t manage such numbers – 312+13 out of 403 seats — even at the height of Ayodhya agitation.
The credit for this landslide victory goes to Modi and his doppelganger Amit Shah. But does this represent a success of the facetious “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (together with all, development for all) mantra?
What explains the BJP’s loss in Punjab, Goa and Manipur? The Congress won emphatically in Punjab and emerged as the largest party in Goa and Manipur while the BJP came second. Yet the party managed to install governments in these states through horse-trading.
So why did Modi’s magic work in UP but fail in Punjab, Goa and Manipur? Journalist Harish Khare explains: “The answer is simple: a Hindu vote bank has been cobbled together and sustained there because UP has a sizeable Muslim population, against whom ancient prejudices and new resentments could be stimulated. This is the bottom line of a complicated electoral contest.”
Modi’s magic failed to deliver in Delhi followed by Bihar and now Punjab and Goa simply because in the absence of a Muslim bogey, the BJP couldn’t resort to polarization.
UP is different. It’s the heart of the Hindi heartland and home to Ayodhya, the temple town that helped the BJP turn around its fortunes, taking a 2-member party to the height of power in Delhi. When in doubt, the party goes back to its tried, tested mantra and baseline message of Hindutva. This is what it did in UP. And how!
Preying on the Hindu angst about secular pandering to Muslims and portraying the minority as an existential threat, the BJP cobbled together an extraordinary supra-caste coalition of various communities defying the post Mandal realities.
While Samajwadi Party’s Yadav clan kept squabbling well into the polls, the BJP began its preparations in right earnest, soon after the 2014 polls. It simply couldn’t afford to lose UP, if it had to return to power in Delhi in 2019.
Its well-oiled machinery and dedicated cadres of various Hindutva outfits had been zealously working, using more than 10,000 WhatsApp groups,
neighbourhood committees and network of temples, akharas and schools for the final outcome. Hotheads like Yogi Adityanath — now the UP chief minister — and Sakshi Maharaj continually stirred the pot with the talk of love jihad, cow slaughter and Hindu exodus.
The BJP ran a door-to-door campaign, driving home the message of “Hindu victimhood” again and again. The party didn’t field a single Muslim candidate and flaunted the fact. These polls had become a Hindu vs. Muslim battle, reminding many of the pre-Partition toxic confrontation between the Congress and the Muslim League.
Modi and Amit Shah spent much of their time in the battleground state, queering the pitch with their talk of “Kasabs, Qabrastan and Shamshan”. The result has been astounding. The BJP deserved to win, thanks to all its hard work and of course the clever messaging against the mythical “enemy.” The party managed to turn UP into a “dharm yudh” (holy war) against an enemy that didn’t even exist.
So what if UP’s Muslims are the most backward in the country, with more than 80 percent of the 40-million population subsisting below poverty line? Blamed historically for the creation of Pakistan and demonized as “secular vote bank”, they have long been the fodder of Hindutva cannons.
However, UP 2017 effectively demolished the myth of Muslim vote bank. It was a watershed election and may serve as a model in times to come. By unifying the Hindu society and directing its ire against Muslims, the BJP not only swept the polls, it has brought down the Muslim representation to a historic low — from 69 to 25 seats or 5.9 percent. The BJP even won in nearly 100 predominantly Muslim seats like Deoband, the seat of Islamic learning.
Understandably, the UP verdict has stunned Muslims, forcing many to suggest extreme measures like avoiding electoral politics for a while.
In a prescient speech ahead of UP polls, former MP Muhammad Adeeb warned: “If Muslims don’t want India to become a Hindu rashtra, they will have to keep away from electoral politics for a while and, instead, concentrate on education. Muslims should understand that their very presence in the electoral fray leads to communal polarization.”
He explained: “Muslim candidates have become a red rag to even secular Hindus who rally behind the BJP, turning every election into a Hindu-Muslim one.”
Of course, who wouldn’t agree with the argument that Muslims need to single-mindedly focus on arming themselves with education. It is the only road to our emancipation.
However, while I understand the concern behind the prescription suggesting political “sanyas” or isolation for Muslims, I believe such a step would be counterproductive and even suicidal in the long run. This is nothing but political escapism. This may work for a small minority like Parsis but not for a 200-million strong community. By staying aloof and surrendering its democratic rights, India’s second largest community would end up helping create an apartheid state like Israel.
What Muslims desperately and urgently need to do is build bridges with their Hindu brethren whose majority remains fair and reasonable. We pay much lip service to solidarity with fellow travelers, including Dalits. But how many of us have actually taken such a step? We must strictly avoid confrontational politics and instead focus our energies on our real issues and challenges.
Thirdly, wherever we are, we must reach out to our non-Muslim friends and neighbours to introduce our faith and address their misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims. This is the key to many of our problems.
This is something that Muslims who ruled India for centuries should have done. We are paying for their indifference and apathy. If we do not do our bit, our future generations will not forgive us. Indian Muslims need a new roadmap. UP 2017 is not the end of the world, if we draw the right lessons from it.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org