Image Courtesy: NDTV
Lucknow: Months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for an outreach programme focussing on Pasmanda (Backward) Muslims, the Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched an aggressive campaign ahead of the forthcoming urban polls in the state.
Three back-to-back conventions for the “socio-economic uplift” of the Pasmanda community were held in Lucknow, Bareilly, Rampur and Kanpur, respectively, as part of its Muslim outreach programme. At least half a dozen such events featuring top ministers of Yogi government 2.0 lined up till next month, especially in western Uttar Pradesh, where Pasmanda Muslims have a sizable presence.
Amid the buzz that the saffron party could field Muslim candidates, mostly in western Uttar Pradesh, in these urban elections, the BJP has been tactically aiming to win over the most backward among the Muslims, ones who do odd jobs for survival and have been among the beneficiaries of the various schemes of the “double engine” BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh.
Minority Welfare Minister Danish Azad Ansari, the lone Muslim face of the Yogi 2.0 government, said, “Both Central and State governments have worked for economic and social empowerment of Muslims so far without any discrimination. The BJP now wants the political empowerment of Muslims by ensuring their participation” during the first convention held in the state capital.
The president of the Uttar Pradesh BJP’s minority wing, Kunwar Basit Ali, said this time strong and trusted Muslim BJP workers will be given tickets in the urban local bodies elections.
“The BJP government has done as much as it could do for the Pasmanda Muslims. Now, it has to take it from them,” he said.
“The government has given benefits of its schemes to 4.5 crore Muslims in UP, they have been made a minister, head of minority commission, president of Urdu Academy, 80 per cent share to Pasmanda Muslims in various commissions and morchas of the government,” Ali claimed during an outreach programme in west UP.
In Pasmanda Muslim meets, the BJP leaders highlighted that the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress always used Muslims as a “vote bank” and did not give them their due.
The BJP top brass also pointed out the recent wins in the Lok Sabha by-polls in Muslim-dominated constituencies from Rampur and Azamgarh to state that the script is changing.
Attempt to Divide Muslims?
The party’s reach indicates that it wants to win over Muslims, who have traditionally been thought of as its rival parties’ vote bank in the state’s power.
Muslim intellectuals NewsClick spoke with, believe that it is another attempt to divide Muslims into sects.
Omar Rashid, who has been tracking UP politics for over a decade and formerly worked with The Hindu, told NewsClick, “The BJP’s Pasmanda Muslim outreach contradicts the BJP’s own approach towards Muslims in general as the party has marginalised the beleaguered minority community not only in representation but also through oppressive laws targetting their marriages, food habits, clothes, security as well as prayer. In such a scenario, the BJP’s outreach to create an artificial political division among Muslims appears nothing but a publicity stunt to further push the Opposition into submission and keep them constrained to the Muslim question, which in turn helps the BJP polarise Hindu communities. The BJP would not feel comfortable taking on the Opposition parties if the question evolved around the well-being and future of OBC and Dalit castes.”
He further added, “Although there are social differences within Muslims and their castes often mimic the hierarchical style of the Hindu caste system, the division is not as stark especially when it comes to politics. There is little to no anger amongst Pasmandas towards the upper-caste Muslims when it comes to critical questions of security and freedom. In the last four decades, it has been always directed at the BJP and its Hindutva agenda. After such a long experience with the BJP, which Muslims across classes and castes have repeatedly voted against, it seems unlikely that the BJP’s narrative would find any takers among the Muslim masses. By propping up a couple of opportunistic Muslim brokers in the hope of accentuating the narrative, the BJP can create a discussion in the media. However, building trust among Muslims, be they poor or rich, Pasmanda or Ashraf (Upper class), is a long journey for a party whose core is the subjugation of minorities and their constitutionally granted rights.”
Rashid questioned why did the BJP not reach out to the Pasmandas even once in eight years. The social justice report of 2018 which recommends the division of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota into three parts is still lying in storage. Pasmanda Muslims would benefit from that. So what stops the BJP from implementing the sub-quota?
Nakshab, a senior journalist based in Meerut, told NewsClick, “Muslims as a community itself is Pasmanda. According to the Sachar Committee, Muslims are the most prosecuted community in the country. In fact, the condition of Muslims is worse than Dalits as per the report. The intake of Muslims in government jobs is around one or two%, they are not being able to avail the social welfare schemes. This outreach by the BJP among Pasmanda is an attempt to divide Muslims into sects and would portray how Pasmanda Muslims are being exploited by Ashraf Muslims like the upper caste Hindu treating Dalits.”
When questioned will downtrodden Muslims be attracted by this outreach, he further added, “the same party doing prosecution of same Pasmanda Muslims in the name of cow protection and other hand you are talking about the welfare of the same community. These two things cannot go hand in hand.”
The journalists said that the BJP often comes out with outlandish claims to push its narrative and derail the opposition in the media. Earlier, the party vehemently claimed that Muslim women, that too those clad in burqa, were voting for the BJP due to the criminalisation of triple talaq and other welfare measures. Such claims infantilise Muslim women and also reduce their agency as thinking adults.
The Muslim intellectuals questioned the BJP government’s stand as to how its party leaders had kept quiet on volatile issues like CAA-NRC despite 23 Muslims, mostly Pasmanda being killed in alleged police firing. The victims killed during the violence hail from poor financial backgrounds. And most of them were daily wagers. Even mob lynching, bulldozing of homes of Muslims and public flogging still prevails across the state.
Who Are Pasmanda Muslims?
The word Pasmanda is derived from Persian and it means “left behind” or oppressed. The Pasmanda group makes up over 85% of Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh.
Even though the Pasmandas are in the majority, the community is socially and economically backward. The community includes Dalit (Arzals) and backward Muslim (Ajlafs) population. The rest of the 15% of Muslims are considered upper class or Ashrafs.
The castes within Pasmanda Muslims are generally decided by their profession. It includes more than 45 communities such as Malik (Teli), Momin Ansar (weavers), Qureshi (butchers), Mansoori (those who make quilts and mattresses), Idrisi (tailors), Saifi (iron smith), Salmani (barbers), Ghosi (animal trader), Saifi (carpenter), Raeen (vegetable growers/sellers) and Hawari (washermen).
The Ashraf or elite class comprises the Sheikhs, Sayyeds, Turks and Pathans.
Ali Anwar Ansari, a former Member of Parliament may not have been the first person who coined the term ‘Pasmanda’ but he is credited for widely using it. In 1998, he founded All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM), an apolitical body. This term is mostly used by the Muslims in north India- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand.
“BJP is habitual of such cheating and forgery. Their audacity with the Muslims has already been exposed. The entire politics of the current government is anti-Muslim and now they are talking about ‘Sneh’ yatra for Pasmanda Muslims which is only merely lip service. BJP only pretends to respect Babasaheb Ambedkar but opposes his ideology. Same in the Mahatma Gandhi case. PM Modi praises Gandhi on foreign soil but his leaders and workers praise and garland his killer. BJP does not have any stalwart leader so they keep mentioning Ambedkar and Gandhi in their speech. How will the party attract Pasmanda Muslims when it talks about an economic boycott of the community, give calls to make India a Hindu Rashtra and leave no stone unturned to harass Muslims in the name of love jihad, UPSC jihad with the help of media,” Ali Anwar told NewsClick.
The former MP further added, “Bilkis Bano belongs to the Ghanchi community of Pasmanda, the same community PM Modi belongs to but what happened with the accused? All of them were freed with the help of Modi. Where did his love for Pasmanda Muslims go then?
Taking a dig at the Opposition, he further said that as the ruling party continues to explore new ways to widen its support base, the Opposition’s space to manoeuvre appears to be shrinking.
“Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lalji Tandon benefited from doing Shia-Sunni and Modi and Yogi want to do the same but it won’t happen. However, fearing BJP, the opposition parties including Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress stopped talking about secularism, leaving aside Pasmanda Muslims and addressing their issues. BJP wants to portray they are concerned for the Pasmanda community. Muslim religious scholars and intellectuals are also responsible for giving a little space to BJP among Pasmanda Muslims as they never address their issues on the ground which I had realised post-Babri demolition and doing my bit to bring them under one umbrella,” he stressed.
Ali Anwar Ansari also wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanking him for using the word ‘Pasmanda during the BJP’s national executive in Hyderabad in July. Anwar in his letter questioned why backward Muslims had not been part of discussions earlier and why BJP thought of organising a ‘Sneh yatra’ now.
“It was a pleasant surprise to hear you talk about Pasmanda, but the Pasmanda Muslims want ‘Samman’ (equality and dignity), not ‘sneh’ (affection). The term ‘sneh’ has a specific connotation: That the Pasmanda Muslims need ‘sneh’ denotes that they are an inferior lot requiring patronage from the ones who are superior,” Ansari wrote.
(Photo of the letter accessed by NewsClick)
Commenting over the outreach by BJP, Abdul Hafiz Gandhi, Samajwadi Party (SP) spokesperson told NewsClick, “those who have been left behind should be talked about and welfare policies should be made for them. There is a difference between ‘kathni (saying) and karni’ (doing) of the BJP. It is evident that the party could not field any Muslim in 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2022 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and they are talking about political representation of Pasmanda Muslims.”
The SP spokesperson also accused the ruling BJP to clear its stand on Article 341 of the constitution which was supposed to give benefits to the Pasmanda community.
The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, stipulates that no person professing a religion different from Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism can be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste. The original order under which only Hindus were classified was later amended to include Sikhs and Buddhists.
Congress leader Shahnawaz Alam also raised livelihood issues of the Qureshi community of the Pasmanda section. He said the plight of weavers in PM Modi’s constituency is not hidden from anyone.