Thursday, February 9, 2017

Muslims and UP Elections: Do They Have a Real Choice?

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
09 February 2017
It will be repeating the obvious if one says that Muslims in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections will not vote for the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). It cannot be denied that the BJP has upset Muslims in the past and even continues to so in the present. While for a while it looked like it will bypass targeting of Muslims through vitriolic speeches and focus on its agenda of development for all, it is now becoming increasingly clear that some of its members are not convinced of this strategy. We have had calls for abolition of triple Talaq by senior members of the party and growing chorus around the demand for building the grand temple at Ayodhya. While the issue of triple Talaq needs to be debated dispassionately and many Muslims have themselves come forward to condemn the practice, making it an election issue sends a very different signal. It is not surprising therefore that Muslims will be wary of voting for the BJP.
It needs to be said that in terms of a promise this has been a wasted opportunity for the BJP. Muslims have a historical baggage viz a viz the BJP and they have genuine complaints. However, in the present scenario when the BJP is trying to replace the Congress as the de-facto national party, the effort should have been to allay the fears of the minorities which has accrued through decades. The UP elections, having the most Muslim electorates, were a golden opportunity for the BJP to make a start in that direction. It could have talked about its governance model which it claims to be non-discriminatory and it could have opened various back channel dialogues with the Muslim community. Even in terms of its election manifesto, there is hardly any thought which has gone into addressing this problem. In fact, it looks like the Muslim outreach is hardly an issue for the current BJP, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.
But this is not to say Muslims will have any real choice when it comes to voting for other political formations who are currently clamouring for the Muslim vote. Let’s us start with the grand secular alliance of the SP and Congress. They are the favourites for the Muslim vote. But their record in terms of Muslim empowerment and security is not as good as it is made out to be. For one, Muslims have remained the most deprived category in Uttar Pradesh. The level of education and employment is appalling.
Not just that: A comparative analysis will show that within Indian Muslims, they are perhaps the most deprived in terms of social, educational and economic indicators. Let us not forget that for the better part of their political history, Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have chosen the Congress and SP to lead them. And then again, no one can perhaps forget the traumatic riots in Muzaffarnagar in which scores of Muslims lost their lives and became homeless. The ruling dispensation, the SP just cannot say that the riots were the handiwork of the BJP. After all, the SP was in power and it was within their capacity not to let the riots happen. In trying to play both ways, the SP ended up with playing with the lives of hundreds of Muslims. To argue that it was not in control is nothing short of abdicating responsibility of law and order which every state government is duty bound to uphold.
The Congress, after being out of power for so long, is also in the race for Muslims votes. But again, its history is chequered when it comes to representing Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh, series of riots took place when they were in power. Meerut and Moradabad are obvious examples which people have conveniently forgotten. But these were riots in which severe police brutality was wrecked upon ordinary Muslims and they have not got justice till now. Not only this but the sinister campaign that all riots happens because of BJP only means that Congress which perhaps has a bloodier record of organizing riots is today claiming to be the champion of secularism. Its role in the Babri Masjid demolition was dubious to say the least: it did not do anything to prevent it despite being the ruling party at the Centre.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is another serious contender of the Muslim vote. Despite its past alliance with the BJP, Muslims are willing to give the party another chance in some places in UP. But a critical scrutiny of her own records belies any hopes that she has the best interest of Muslims in mind. It was during BSP’s regime that a series of terror charges were brought upon Muslim youths, most of whom were eventually found to be false by various courts. After destroying the lives of these ordinary Muslims, today she is positioning herself as the champion of Muslims. It must be said to the BSP’s credit that during her tenure there were hardly any riots against Muslims but then it also must be underlined that that was hardly any new initiative to improve the lives of ordinary Muslims.
In all probability, Muslims in UP will end up voting for the alliance or at places for the BSP. But then this is not going to be a positive vote. Essentially it will be a vote to defeat the perceived enemy: the BJP. The Muslims will gloat in that momentary happiness for a while and then go back to their business as usual till another Muzaffarnagar happens. In this fight between the secular and communal votes, it is the Muslims who are the biggest losers. A win for the alliance is not a win for secularism. A win for a non BJP party does not mean that Muslims will see any positive development in their well-being. Essentially they have become captive voters for these so called secular parties. Given the history of all these parties, Muslims in UP today have no real choice. Until they consciously dissociate themselves from this secular communal binary, they will not become masters of their own lives.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with
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