The ‘Hijab’ controversy yields no dividend to the BJP in Western Uttar Pradesh

High turnout of Muslim voters, especially women, yesterday in Uttar Pradesh turned the tide in favour of SP-RLD candidates in Western Uttar Pradesh

The ‘Hijab’ controversy yields no dividend to the BJP in Western Uttar Pradesh

Tariq Hasan

If the ‘Hijab’ controversy was intended to keep Muslim women indoors on polling day and polarise Hindu sentiment in favour of the BJP, the party appears to have been disappointed on both counts in Western Uttar Pradesh. The image of a single Muslim woman hounded by a hostile and rowdy mob of boys, shared widely across the world, has badly boomeranged on the BJP.

Not only did Muslim women in Hijab come out in large numbers to vote, Hindu voters seemed either indifferent to the controversy or revolted by it. The controversy is cynical and repulsive, admitted some voters because they have been so used to see women in Hijab while growing up.

While the booth-wise polling figures are still not available, initial media reports suggested that in Western UP, BJP is now reconciled to a heavy losses. While the party had bagged as many as 53 seats in 2017 out of the 58 seats for which polling was held on Monday, analysts suggested that in the best case scenario BJP could hope to retain only around 20 seats.

Last-minute efforts by the BJP to further polarise the campaign on religious grounds do not seem to have yielded any dividend. On the contrary, the controversy actually deepened the sense of insecurity among Muslims and heightened fear among Muslim women. This is believed to be the reason why Muslim turnout in even those constituencies where Muslims were lukewarm because of what they believed was a settled result, rose sharply on Monday.

The Hijab controversy has stirred a strong pan Indian reaction in the beleaguered community.

The evocative image of a solitary hijab-clad Muslim girl being hounded by a mob of boys sporting saffron scarves, turban and shawl has disturbed not only Muslims but also revolted a large number of Hindus as well. This single image of a single young woman facing a rowdy and hostile mob has become internationally viral.

The surge of minority voters at polling booths in the Kol constituency in Aligarh city is a case in point. Here the Samajwadi Party candidate Ajju Ishaq was perceived to be trailing behind the sitting BJP MLA and the Congrees candidates till last week. With Muslim voters constituting just about 25 percent of the electorate, the prospects of the SP candidate were deemed to be slim. But reports suggest that while voting percentage was poor among other communities, a surge in voting by Muslims pushed the overall voting percentage beyond 65 percent.

Similar reports are trickling in from several other parts of Western Uttar Pradesh.

BJP strategists would be worried and wondering if the religion card and the Hijab controversy would boomerang in the rest of the state as well.

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