November 28, 2022

Once a deciding factor, will Muslim voters revive their swing value in UP? | India News – Times of India

LUCKNOW: Once seen as the ‘deciding factor’ for their propensity for ‘strategic voting’, Muslims were a formidable electorate in UP until the 2014 general elections, when BJP’s strategy of consolidating Hindu votes across the state’s deep caste divide pushed the minority vote to the margins. Eight years and three major elections later, the Muslim ‘vote bank’ is quiet in 2022 – though the community that makes up more than 19% of UP’s population can still influence the outcome in over 120 of 403 assembly constituencies through its numerical strength.
What was its strength became its weakness after 2014 when not a single Muslim MP from UP made it to the Lok Sabha. Over 120 seats have 20% or more people from the community, but the number of Muslim MLAs dwindled to 25 – from 68 in 2012, the highest ever in the UP assembly.
Numbers matter, but not always. Muslims constitute more than 50% of Rampur’s population; 47% in Moradabad and Sambhal; 43% in Bijnor; 41% in Saharanpur; over 40% in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Amroha; between 30% and 40% in five more districts; and 20% to 30% in 12 districts. And yet, the community has acquired a mute-spectator image lately. This time it hopes things will change.
The silence is not limited to the community. Political parties have been silent on ‘Muslim issues’- seen as a strategy to stop counter-polarisation of Hindu votes. Non-BJP parties have been quiet on a range of topics linked to the community: like openly backing anti-CAA protests in UP that left over 20 dead, or fielding Muslim candidates. Samajwadi Party has not showcased how many Muslim candidates it has fielded, while Mayawati’s BSP has shifted its focus from Dalit-Muslim to Dalit-Brahmin alignment. None of the major opposition players have made any community specific promises in their manifestos.
Many Muslims see this silence as the right move to prevent further polarisation of votes. “This seems to be why BJP was unable to cling to communal issues such as Kabristan versus Shamshan that it did in the past. Had SP, BSP or Congress participated in the anti-CAA protests or the farmers’ protest, BJP would have politically blunted those agitations,” said Imran Asad, a businessman from Bhadohi.
There’s something more, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind’s state head Maulana Ashhad Rashidi explained: “In a democracy like India, it is not about keeping a community together but ensuring that the secular vote remains undivided.”
But it was this very ‘unity’ that singled out the community as a separate bloc – with singular problems. “This created an image that Muslims were being treated differently, though their problems were the same as the rest of the population,” said Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahli, Imam of Lucknow’s biggest Eidgah at Aishbagh. “This time, Muslims are not being demarcated as a separate chunk, but as a homogeneous part of the electorate. That is excellent for a secular democracy,” the Maulana said.
Top Shia cleric Maulana Saif Abbas said the community has formed a UP Democratic Forum to persuade Muslim voters to go and vote. “In 2017, we found that the community’s voting percentage was less than 50%,” he said. The population in six of nine districts voting on February 14 are 30% from the community.

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