While the BJP has vociferously publically opposed “caste census, caste politics” to consolidate Hindu vote bank, in Muslim community the party has “Pasmanda gameplan” to split the community. It seems “ashraf” (Muslim upper castes) are electorally irrelevant for the saffron brigade, writes M Hasan
Lucknow, February 12: While aggressively pursuing majoritarian agenda, the BJP has been making hectic efforts to divide Muslim vote bloc by targeting Pasmanda (Muslim OBC and Dalits) class in the country. The move is presumably aimed at further weakening and fragmenting the minority, which has been completely politically marginalized during the last one decade.
Apart from two major sects—Sunni and Shias, Muslims are mainly divided into three castes. At the top of pyramid are Ashrafs (literally the nobles who trace their ancestry to clans in Arab world), Ajlaf (the commoners who converted from Hindu low castes) and Arzals (means despicable who are said to be Dalit converts). In short, Ashrafs, which include Shias also, are the Brahmin equivalent, Ajlafs are the Vaisya equivalent and Shudras, and Arzals are the Atishudras or Dalit equivalents in Indian Muslims. The BJP has targeted the last two-Ajlaf and Arzal- (Pasmanda) who form majority in Muslim block, to make dent into Opposition’s Muslim base.
Significantly while the BJP has vociferously opposed “caste census, caste politics” to consolidate Hindu vote bank, in Muslim community it is only “Pasmanda gameplan” which is at play. It seems “ashraf” are electorally irrelevant for the saffron brigade.
In view of prevailing backwardness, the Mandal commission had declared over 80 Muslim groups among total 400 castes to be backward. The commission had thus categorised half of the Muslim population as backward. According to data Muslim constituted 8.4% of total OBC population and had thus recommended 6%of the total 27% quota for identified Muslim OBCs. Those specified as backward included groups like weavers, oil crushers, carpenters, Dhobis and others and Mandal commission had made provisions for reservation for these groups.
In view of numerical strength The BJP leadership have planned to reach out to Pasmanda class of the Muslim community, as highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad national executive meeting in 2022. Thereafter the party had launched few reach out programme for this section of minority. The BJP Minority Morcha has also undertaken initiatives to apprise Muslim Pasmanda about Yogi governments welfare policies with discrimination.
Former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and BJP MLC Tariq Mansoor, who is national vice president of BJP recently wrote in an article “ The Pasmandas- a social sub group representing the most backward Muslims constituting roughly 80 per cent of Indian Muslim population form the core of this strategy. The party willingness to accommodate the Pasmandas promises to end the hegemony of elites in Muslim politics. By making calls for greater democratization and inclusivity in Muslim politics the BJP seeks to address key Pasmanda demands—not to view Muslim as a monolith”.
The BJP is largely banking on past electoral support of Pasmanda to further increase support base in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. According to available data in 2017 UP assembly elections around 12 percent general Muslim, including eight percent Pasmanda class voted for the BJP. But in 2022 it came down to 9.8 percent among general Muslim. However, Pasmanda support went up to 9.1 percent. The BJP thus hopes to make further inroads in Pasmanda community.
However Muslim community, which is still largely monolithic and selectively mosaic in some cases in its voting pattern, so far appears to be skeptical about BJP’s outreach. Several Muslim groups have alerted Pasmanda community about the gameplan of the saffron brigade. There is also feeling that Pasmanda community had been largely affected during communal disturbance. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said that Pasmanda Muslims have been victims of vigilante violence under present dispensation. Even though caste-based solidarity is strong among Muslims, electorally religion-based solidarity has been quite visible during the last few elections. It is amply demonstrated in CDS-Lokniti surveys in 2020 Bihar elections in which nearly 77 percent Muslims voted for anti-BJP alliance of RJD and other party, in 2021 West Bengal elections 75 percent Muslim voted for Mamata Banejee led TMC and in 2022 UP election Samajwadi Party got 79 percent vote of Muslims.
With BJP once again setting election agenda around Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura, Uttrakhand Uniform Civil Code, CAA and Bulldozer justice at the ground level along with talk of welfarism and development, the party would find it difficult to expand base in Pasmanda community as All- India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM) has already said no political party should take the support of Pasmanda for granted.
(Lucknow-based journalist M Hasan is former Chief of Bureau of Hindustan Times)