UP Election Results 2017: Muslims need to embrace development, rise above 'counterfeit' secularism

There is reason to believe, based on early voting trends and results, that a bulk of Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh cast their votes in favour of the Samajwadi Party (SP), while some voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), in the recently concluded Assembly election.

It was a result of concerted efforts by the 'so-called' secular parties, the SP and BSP, as well as the Urdu press and Islamic clerics that swayed the Muslim voters against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

However, with the results going heavily in favour of the Narendra Modi-led party, it can be argued that a wave of reverse polarisation worked in its favour in the state.

BJP workers play holi with a giant cut-out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they celebrate the party’s victory in the UP. PTI

BJP workers play holi with a giant cut-out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they celebrate the party’s victory in the UP. PTI

Before the elections, renowned Sunni Islamic clerics like Maulana Salman Al-Husaini Al-Nadwi and Maulana Saidur Rahman of the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama seminary, Maulana Khalid Rasheed of the Darul Uloom Farangi Mahal and Maulana Aamir Rashadi of the Rashtriya Ulama Council as well as the Shia religious leaders like Maulana Kalbe Jawwad and Maulana Kalbe Sadiq had expressed support for either the SP or the BSP.

In October, much before the elections, BSP's political rallies used to begin with the recitation of the Quran and references to hadiths (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad). To some extent, the BSP may have inadvertently aided in the reverse consolidation of Muslim votes for the BJP.

Even Congress scion Rahul Gandhi had visited the Darul Uloom Deoband and the Nadwatul Ulama, in an attempt to to seek votes. It is not uncommon for Hindu leaders, during election time in UP, to act as minority leaders to woo the Muslim voters. Muslims, too, love this symbolism.

Although BJP's landslide victory may have benefited by the reverse consolidation of Muslim votes, the sheer scale of the victory indicates that the ground realities, not only in UP but elsewhere in India too, have altered fundamentally.

India is predominantly a 'youth' country, with 55 percent of its 1.3 billion people below the age of 25, and about 70 percent below 35 years. They belong to a new political population, that hasn't seen either the Emergency or the Partition.

The Indian Constitution is not merely a document. It contains a set of ideas about liberty and equality, which nurture the minds of India's youths, who are beginning to look beyond caste and religion. The youth now aspire for jobs and developments. So, it is not incidental that voices against the arbitrariness of triple talaq and for the Uniform Civil Code are being raised by this new political population.

During the seven-phase voting in UP, it was seen that Muslim women connected with Modi's statement on the issue of triple talaq, a social disease that haunts Muslim families across India. Anecdotal evidence from the ground suggests that some Muslim women were not allowed to vote in UP, because they were opposed to triple talaq.

Many Muslim women voted for Modi, if not the BJP, for his gas cylinder scheme – in which LPG cylinders are distributed to poor families, irrespective of their caste and religion.

In UP, Muslims youths have been asking: Why not the BJP? It must be mentioned that during the 1930s and 1940s, the Congress was perceived as a Hindu party by Muslims, while the Muslim League was viewed as a Muslim party.

In the UP elections, some Muslims did vote for the BJP. Reuters

In the UP elections, some Muslims did vote for the BJP. Reuters

The BJP, too, is going through a similar phase in which it is perceived as a Hindu party, while the Muslim League is now replaced by the SP and BSP. While the SP may survive the election results, the BSP will be almost dead as a party. BJP's sweeping victory will force the dominant Muslim mind to rethink its preconceived ideas and notions.

In Gujarat and Assam, some Muslims did vote for the BJP. Shia Muslims already vote for the BJP, while Sunni Muslims continue to engage in minority politics. During the era of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Muslims did connect with the BJP, but this political connect was lost subsequently and Muslims fell back into their cocoon. In Bihar elections, Muslim women prayed for Nitish Kumar to win because they were fed baseless rumours that Modi will demolish the mosques.

In the UP elections, some Muslims did vote for the BJP, but their numbers are insignificant and they do not say it publicly because they will be shamed in their community. Among Muslims, the Shia Muslims do not project themselves as a victim or as a minority. For half a century or more, the Sunni Muslims have viewed the successive governments as enemies and haven't learnt to live as a minority. While Muslims know that the so-called secular parties are using them, their leaders still do not realise the harmful effect of this 'counterfeit' secularism in India.

Secularism exists only in books. In India, the practice of secularism essentially means only one thing: Muslim communalism, as practised both by Muslim as well as by the so-called secular Hindu parties. This form of counterfeit secularism is dividing India's society and its people into caste and religious categories. Much like liberalism has become an abuse in the US, secularism in India is harming Indian Muslims because it does not stand for the authentic meaning of secularism.

A bulk of Muslims is still influenced by Islamic clerics, though a class of newly educated Muslim youths is constantly trying to think of its place in the Indian polity. However, the Muslim youth too remains caught up in the historical legacy of Muslim separatism.

In the 1857 war, Muslims and Hindus fought together against the British. But this unity was lost soon. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's educational movement began in opposition to Hindus, and Muslims continued this opposition during the freedom struggle. It continued after Independence in the name of quota and riots.

Unless the Muslim leadership abandons this historical legacy of separatism and stops seeing any Indian party or government as an enemy, its betterment cannot follow. Due to the sheer logic of electoral calculations, the BJP was right not to field Muslim candidates in UP because they would have certainly lost. However, as the BJP has now emerged as a pan-India party, it must follow its policy of sabka saath, sabka vikas – by recruiting Muslim leaders, especially women, in its organisational hierarchy at the district levels.

Muslims need to embrace BJP, while the BJP must walk a step towards the Muslims. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has done some considered thinking on this issue. Having realised that Muslims cannot be left behind, the RSS has established a Muslim Rashtriya Manch to foster India's cohesion. The BJP too needs to learn from it and begin a journey that conforms to the moderate core of Indian society in which everyone resides together and dreams a vision of India together.

The author, a former BBC journalist, is a contributing editor at Firstpost and executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He tweets @tufailelif

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Published Date: Mar 12, 2017 01:09 pm | Updated Date: Mar 12, 2017 01:09 pm