The Pasmanda factor in Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls

Uttar Pradesh Assembly Polls: The Pasmanda factor

Even if a section of Pasmanda votes shifts out of the SP fold, Akhilesh Yadav's 'cycle' could get punctured

Yogi Adityanath and Akhilesh Yadav. Credit: IANS Photo

Among enduring political myths, one that has persisted is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) engages with the Muslim vote bank only to consolidate the party's core support base amongst the majority Hindus. However, as it turns out, there are several shades to the BJP's colours.

The developments in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, for instance, are instructive. Rather than the leaders of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress or All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), the campaign managers of the BJP are the ones to have applied themselves most intensively to an outreach drive targeting Pasmanda Muslims.

The Yogi Adityanath government has organised "Hunar Haats", or artisans camps, for Muslims (majority of whom are Pasmandas) at several locations, including Gorakhpur and Allahabad. Such fairs - where artisans are provided free stalls and financial assistance of Rs 1500 - are planned to be replicated in all the state's districts. At least four Pasmandas have been taken on board in various state or central administered boards or corporations in recent months, and among them are Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Javed as chairman of the Madarsa Board, Ashraf Saifi as chairman of the state minorities commission and Atif Rashid as chairman of the National Minorities Commission. Three senior BJP leaders - Shahnawaz Hussain, Devendra Pradhan and Arjun Ram Meghwal - have moved about in the bylanes and streets of rural UP to seek support for the party amongst Pasmandas.

The importance of Pasmandas

Until 1998 - when former Janata Dal (United) leader Ali Anwar Ansari launched the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz - the term had not been part of the political lexicon. In the 2005 Bihar Assembly elections, when sections of Pasmandas deserted the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to extend support to the Nitish Kumar's JD(U), Lalu Prasad Yadav not only lost the elections, but his famed Muslim-Yadav (MY) support base developed cracks that have still not been repaired. All of a sudden, a new factor was seen to have emerged in Indian politics.

Spread out across states including Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Pasmanda Muslims constitute approximately 80 per cent of the country's Muslim population. They are engaged mainly in menial jobs, such as carpentry, plumbing, cloth weaving, ironsmiths or sweepers. While the Muslim leadership role has primarily remained with the community's elites that go by surnames such as Sayyeds, Sheikhs, Pathans or Mirzas, Pasmandas are slowly, but steadily, beginning to find their voice.

At places, including Gorakhpur and Varanasi, Pasmanda gatherings are being organised, and important political demands are raised. These have demanded a rethink by the Centre on the caste census and the inclusion of Pasmandas as a category, the setting up of a constitutional body to be called the Pasmanda Welfare Authority, and demands for more Pasmanda participation in the political structure. An entire new iconography on historical icons of Pasmandas is being worked on, with literature and poetry being written around such figures. Ahead of the Assembly elections in UP, the question is whether the Pasmanda voting behaviour change?

Changing political trends

While the non-BJP parties, through compulsion or choice, have taken to the path of "soft Hindutva" in recent years, a rethink appears to be happening amongst strategists in the saffron party at the same time. In this year's West Bengal and Assam elections, the BJP fielded nine and eight Muslim candidates, respectively. The party gave tickets to eight candidates belonging to the minority communities in Kerala (six Christians and two Muslims). For a party that has been unapologetic on the "Hindu First" principles, such concessions do not appear minor. Also, it is not insignificant that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has been all sugar and honey regarding his observations on "Indian Muslims". The BJP think tank appears to be gravitating to the idea that if the party is to sustain its dominance over national politics as a replacement for the Congress, it will need to broaden its support base. Pasmanda Muslims, to that extent, appear to fit in with the BJP's long term goals.

The fault lines

Representing most of UP's estimated Muslim population of 18-20 per cent, Pasmandas seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. From Akhlaq Khan in Dadri to Pehlu Khan in Alwar and Tabrez Ansari in Ranchi, the victims of mob lynching at the hands of radical rightist groups have all been Pasmandas. Also, members of the community have mostly been the targets under campaigns such as "Love Jihad", "Ghar Wapsi", or "Gau Raksha". So, the BJP cannot be the natural choice for Pasmanda voters in the upcoming elections.

The other alternative of going with the Samajwadi Party does little in unshackling the community from its bondage of electoral compulsions. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has been reluctant to be seen in the same frame as Pasmanda Muslims in recent weeks - possibly because of fears that such images could annoy the party's Hindu supporters. Indeed, at locations, including Muzaffarnagar and Ambedkar Nagar, Pasmanda leaders were forcibly pulled down from the stage in the presence of the SP chief. At his Azamgarh rally, everybody on the podium sat on chairs, while the Pashmanda representative, a former legislator, was made to sit on a stool.

Further, the community faces the difficult choice of supporting the BSP or the Congress candidates by accepting the risk that their votes would get wasted. At this point in time, this much seems clear that even if a section of Pasmanda votes shifts out of the SP fold, Akhilesh Yadav's "cycle" could get punctured.


(The writer is a journalist)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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