UP Muslims have supported all secular parties & popular movements, but who stands beside them?

If Hindus, OBCs and Dalits can engage in ‘identity politics', why can’t Muslims? But Muslims in UP have supported secular parties and largely given a cold shoulder to outfits floated in their name

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Representational image
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Saiyed Zegham Murtaza

Uttar Pradesh boasts of 20% Muslim population. There are 100 plus assembly seats where Muslim voters are believed to be decisive and 150 odd seats, where Muslims are perceived to be the balancing factor. Yet, despite such fertile soil, Muslim identity politics or ‘Muslim’ political parties have never taken off. This at a time and in a state where the three major parties’ politics is centred around religion and caste.

As election fever again grips Uttar Pradesh, political discourse is largely devoid of Muslims’ concerns. Not only political parties but also ‘secular’ leaders and people are silent lest they further help consolidate bigotry. This undoubtedly is a sign of how weak ‘secular forces” are in the state. Doesn’t this silence provide an opportunity for the “Muslim Right Wing” to make inroads into the state?

While not even in Kashmir are Muslims forced to answer questions excavated from history, Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have grown up having to answer for the deeds of Babur, Aurangzeb and Jinnah. From the kindergarten level, Muslim children get reconciled to taunts like Babur ke Aulad and of course Pakistani. Cricket matches can inflame communal passions if players or the umpires happen to be Muslim and do not perform to the satisfaction of the majoritarian crowd.

Lynching for transporting cows, questions raised over their attire, beard and skullcaps are par for the course. This is clearly fertile ground for any fundamentalist Muslim political party to reap the harvest of discontent. But surprisingly enough, they have till now failed to find their moorings.

In June 2021, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or the AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi announced its intention to contest 100 seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Though he was heavily criticised by secular parties and public, he caused hardly a ripple among Muslims of the state. They have remained largely indifferent.

Like voters in Bengal, Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have also kept a distance from Owaisi. He is undoubtedly admired by many and supported by many more Muslims. But when it comes to voting, Samajwadi Party, Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and Aam Admi Party have remained their primary choice. There is no sign of a shift despite tremendous dissastisfaction against these ‘secular’ parties for ignoring their genuine concerns.

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It is not that politicians have not tried to encash this resentment; and Muslims have had several opportunities to vote for ‘their own party’. Right from 1952, several outfits with Muslim names have tried their luck in Uttar Pradesh. Parties like the Indian Union Muslim League, National Loktantrik Party, Peace Party, Parcham Party, Rashtriya Ulema Council and more recently AIMIM have kept popping up on ballot papers and EVM.

But in Uttar Pradesh, none of them has left a permanent imprint on voters as AIMIM did in Telangana and Andhra, PDP and JK National Conference did in Kashmir and the Indian Union Muslim League succeeded in doing in Kerala.

The Hyderabad-based AIMIM had contested 38 assembly seats in UP in 2017 and polled 2.05 lakh votes. The highest vote was polled by Ziaur Rahman, the grandson of now Samajwadi Party MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq. Zia was denied a ticket by the Samajwadi Party and was the AIMIM candidate from Sambhal. Junior Barq was also the only contestant out of 38 on the AIMIM list to save his deposit with 60, 426 votes, Zia stood second after Iqbal Mahmood of SP in 2012.

UP Muslims have supported all secular parties & popular movements, but who stands beside them?

AIMIM’s strongest candidate in 2017 re-joined SP before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls along with his grandfather Shafiqur Rahman. Another notable candidate of AIMIM in 2017 was Fizaullah Chaudhary in Kanth (Moradabad). Fizaulla was denied a ticket by BSP. He joined AIMIM,polled 22,908 votes and came fourth. In the remaining 36 seats, AIMIM candidates polled an average of 3385 votes per seat. The result would have disappointed Owaisi in view of the prevailing anti-incumbency against the Samajwadi Party and the fresh and unhealed wounds of the Muzaffarnagar riots.

This however should not come as a surprise. Minorities around the world look for share in power. Inclusive and secular parties at least hold out some hope, something that the Hindu Right never does. Secondly, like other sections of the population, illiterate and poor Muslims are not politically unaware or uneducated. They retain their voice, are vocal about issues and have historically voted smartly in elections. Barring one or two instances, when they were outsmarted by huge religious mobilisation, Muslims in UP have generally strengthened the secular fabric of the state.

Historically, Muslims have also been a part of popular movements. Be it the recent farmers’ agitation or Kisan Union rallies in the 1980s and 1990s, they were in the forefront. They were also active in the VP Singh-led anti-corruption crusade, the JP/Lohia-led Socialist movements and even during the Mandal agitation. They supported the causes of backward classes and SCs in the state although they had little to gain. From Bhudaan to the politically motivated Anna movement, Muslim participation has been remarkable.

Having been repeatedly at the receiving end since Partition and having learnt lessons the hard way, they are wary of sentimental issues and tend to err on the side of caution.

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What do Muslims deserve and what do they get?In a state where Jawahar Lal Nehru once opted to fight from a communally charged constituency instead of a ‘safe seat’, politicians of our times are fearing a backlash from the majority, if they so much as speak on issues affecting Muslims.

Muslim have ceased complaining about their representation in the Assembly and Parliament. But talk to any Muslim on the street and he will reel off the numerous instances when secular parties failed to stand by them. Major communal violence, like the Aligarh riots (1978), Sambhal riots (1978), Moradabad riots (1980), the Hashimpura Massacre (1987), Maliyana Killings (1987) and Muzaffarnagar riots (2013), occurred when secular parties were in government. But despite their disappointment, and disillusionment, Muslims have stood by secular parties.

But party manifestoes do not address Muslim concerns. Muslim representation in the Assembly and Parliament has steadily declined. Fewer Muslims are fielded as candidates in elections. Even political outfits like the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which may even crumble without Muslim support, are advising Muslims to keep quiet and be satisfied with crumbs thrown their way.

Significantly, for the last eight years, there is not a single instance when leaders like Jayant Chaudhary, Mayawati or Akhilesh Yadav raised issues of atrocities against the minority community.

Muslims have few options other than ignoring basic issues like Muslim representation and power sharing and keep voting for secular and caste-based politics. Political outfits like AIMIM, IUML, SDPI, RUC, Peace Party, Parcham Party or NLP were seasonal parties, lacked the organization to contest elections and the resources to take other political parties head-on.

They relied on defectors or candidates denied ticket by others. Candidates like Akhtar ul Iman, Zia-ur-Rahman or Fizaullah aren’t always available nor are candidates willing to be thrown into the ring at the last moment.

People vote for a ‘known’ candidate, a candidate with some utility for them. The seasonal political parties, on the other hand, are generally missing for five years but just before elections, jump into the ring claiming to fight for Muslim interests.

That is why, once again in 2022 there is no alternative (TINA) for Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. They will go with the winning wave.

But how long will they be taken for granted? How long before seasonal birds learn to dig in and bide for their time? How long will the community’s patience be tried? These are questions which are begging to be answered.

[Apology: This article had inadvertently used a morphed image of AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi. We regret the error and republishing the story].

(The writer is an independent journalist and commentator. Views are personal)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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