Muslim voting behavior is always a matter of curiosity to some and concern to others. But one thing has been consistent in their electoral behaviour: they usually vote a party that is best suited to defeat the BJP. That is because of fuelling anti-BJP, anti-RSS and anti-hindutva psyche among Muslims for which BJP-RSS and self-proclaimed secular parties both might be responsible. Is there any change in that psyche now?
I think there is. For that change, again, both Muslims and BJP-RSS are responsible. Let us enquire how.
Muslim psyche, specifically in Uttar Pradesh, has changed in three ways:
One, Muslims are no more worried about security issues. They have come out of identity-security syndrome that was fuelled by non-BJP parties threatening Muslims of dire consequences if BJP were to come to power. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became PM of India, nothing bad happened to the community; rather he earned affection of it. Muslims offered chadar at Dargah Sharif in Ajmer for his health when he fell ill. Similarly, Narendra Modi became PM despite being advertised as anti-Muslim. He has done nothing during past three years that can annoy the community; conversely he has developed good relations with them.
Two, Muslims are usually considered a homogenized community, voting en bloc. But, Muslim society is heterogeneous. There are several sects, castes and sub-castes which are divided along class lines too. The ashraf (upper-caste) Muslims have exploited ajlaf (backward-caste) and arzal (dalit) Muslims in the name of Islam by showing fear of BJP and RSS. The Pasmanda Muslim movement is tearing that homogeneity apart and is encouraging different Muslim denominations to take autonomous political trajectories.
Three, some neo-rich Muslims, especially from the Pasmanda clan, are nursing political aspirations. As most ‘secular’ parties have ‘no vacancy’ because of ashraf dominance, BJP becomes the only choice of such Muslims for political empowerment.
On the other, BJP too has been reaching out to Muslims. PM Modi focuses on macro-mobilisation and Muslim outreach through ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ slogan, improving ties with sufi and shia clerics, running coalition government with PDP in J&K, launching several programmes for welfare of minorities, and through befriending many Islamic states. On the other hand, BJP-RSS are resorting to micro-mobilisation through the Muslim Rashtriya Manch which is reaching out Muslims in far flung areas. The BJP’s initiative in respect of triple talaq, at the askance of Supreme Court, may be irking Muslim clerics, but can silently reach veiled voters who may not express themselves openly on this, but may, silently and positively, respond through the ballot.
While the SP-Congress alliance and BSP’s Dalit-Muslim coalition may still be a greater beneficiary of Muslim votes, the possibility of a small Muslim shift to BJP may not be ruled out. When Modi was projected as anti-Muslim in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP still enhanced its Muslim vote share from 3 per cent in 2007 and 7 per cent in 2012 to 10 per cent in 2014. During last three years, BJP and Muslims have come closer which can reflect in small accretion in party’s Muslim votes. If that happens, we may see strange results on 11 March 2017 when the ballots are counted.
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