Thursday, October 19, 2017
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UP is not the end of the world
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
The spectacular show of the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh polls this week has set the cat among the pigeons. For the struggling opposition and the state's nearly 20 percent Muslim population, it seems even more defining and daunting than the 2014 General Elections.

In many ways, it indeed is. The saffron party's margin of victory in the battle for India's largest state has been highest since its inception. The party did not manage such numbers - 312+13 out of 403 seats -- even at the height of its Ayodhya agitation.

The credit for this landslide victory goes to Narendra Modi and his doppelganger, BJP chief Amit Shah. But does this represent a success of his rather charming and facetious mantra of 'sab ka saath, sab ka vikas' (together with all, development for all)?

What explains the BJP and company's loss in Punjab, Goa and Manipur? The Congress won emphatically in Punjab and emerged as the largest party in Goa and Manipur while the BJP came second. Yet Modi's party has managed to install governments in the two states through horse trading and using BJP governors.

So, as Harish Khare asks, why did the Modi magic work in UP but fail in Punjab, Goa and Manipur? "The answer is simple: a Hindu vote bank has been cobbled together and sustained there because UP has a sizeable Muslim population, against whom ancient prejudices and new resentments could be stimulated. This is the bottom line of an otherwise complicated electoral contest. The Modi crowd can be expected to reject any suggestion of a Hindu vote-bank, but there is only one way to read the UP vote: The Hindu vote stands consecrated," explains Khare.

Indeed, the Modi magic failed to deliver in Delhi followed by Bihar and now Punjab and Goa simply because in the absence of the Muslim bogey in these states, the BJP could not sufficiently rally the electorate.

UP is different of course. It's the heart of the Hindi heartland and of course home to Ayodhya, the temple town that helped the BJP turn around its fortunes -- from a 2-member party to the height of power in Delhi in 1990s. When in doubt, the party goes back to its tried, tested mantra and baseline message of Hindutva. This is what it once again did in UP. And how!

Preying on the Hindu angst about secular pandering to Muslims and portraying the minority as an existential threat to the Hindu society and conjuring the vision of a mighty Hindu Rashtra, the BJP cobbled together an extraordinary supra-caste coalition of various communities defying the post Mandal realities.

While the Samajwadi Yadav clan kept squabbling well into the polls, the BJP began its preparations in right earnest, soon after the 2014 polls.

It simply couldn't afford to lose UP, if it had to return to power in Delhi in 2019. Its well-oiled machinery and dedicated cadres of various Hindutva outfits had been zealously working, using more than 10,000 Whatsapp groups, neighbourhood committees and network of temples, akharas and schools for the final outcome. Meanwhile MPs like Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj continually stirred the pot with their talk of love jihad, cow slaughter and Hindu exodus.

The BJP ran a door-to-door campaign, driving home the message of 'Hindu victimhood' again and again. Of course, the party didn't field a single Muslim candidate and flaunted the fact.

These polls had become a Hindu vs Muslim battle, reminding many of the pre-Partition era of toxic communal confrontation between the Congress and Muslim League.

Modi and Amit Shah spent much of their time in the battleground state, queering the pitch with their talk of 'Kasabs, Qabrastan and Shamshan'. The result has been astounding and shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone. The BJP deserved to win, thanks to all the hard work and persistence that it brought to the battle and of course the clever messaging against a familiar enemy.

Call it polarisation or whatever but the BJP had managed to turn UP into a 'dharm yudh' (holy war) against an enemy that did not even exist.

The UP Muslims are doubtless the most backward in the country, with more than 80% of the 40-million population subsisting below the poverty line. Blamed historically for the creation of Pakistan and perpetually demonized as the vote bank and kingmakers, they have been the fodder of Hindutva cannons.

UP 2017 changes all that, demolishing the myth of Muslim vote bank. It is a watershed election and may serve as a model in times to come.

By unifying the Hindu society and directing its anger against Muslims, the BJP has not only managed to sweep the polls across all regions, it has brought down the Muslim representation to its lowest ever since Independence - from 69 to 25 seats or around 5%.

The party managed to win even in the predominantly Muslim constituencies like Deoband, the seat of Islamic learning. No wonder Mayawati sees a massive electoral fraud and tampering of electronic voting machines.

Whatever the explanation, the UP verdict has stunned Muslims, forcing many community leaders to suggest extreme measures like avoiding the electoral politics for a while and focusing on education and economic empowerment.

In a prescient speech in Lucknow ahead of UP polls, former MP Muhammad Adeeb warned: "If Muslims don't wish to have the status of slaves, if they don't want India to become a Hindu rashtra, they will have to keep away from electoral politics for a while and, instead, concentrate on education."

Addressing the Aligarh Muslim University's Old Boys Association, Adeeb argued: "Muslims should understand that their very presence in the electoral fray leads to a communal polarisation. Why?"

He explained: "A segment of Hindu society hates the very sight of Muslims. But 75% of Hindus are secular. Let them fight out over the kind of India they want. Muslim candidates have become a red rag to even secular Hindus who rally behind the BJP, turning every election into a Hindu-Muslim one."

Adeeb's argument was carried forward by my friend Siraj Wahab of Arab News this week: "The lessons that Muslims in North India need to learn from UP in 2017 is that they should not seek tickets from any party. They shouldn't launch their own party/ies - that only helps in consolidating the majority vote bank. Once they make themselves less visible, there will be less polarisation."

Siraj goes on to argue: "The community's focus should be totally on education; modern education. It needs to cultivate the ruling party which now happens to be its arch enemy. It must swallow the bitter pill and convert this defeat into opportunity. The Muslims of India have been through very bad times in the last two centuries. They lost in 1857. They lost in 1947. And now they lost in March 2017. Democracy can provide the best revenge provided Indian Muslims know how to practice this art subtly and without attracting any undue attention."

These are just two opinions but largely convey the all-consuming despair and frustration that has gripped India's Muslims. Of course, I totally agree with the idea that the community needs to single-mindedly focus on arming itself with modern education. It is the key to our emancipation.

However, while I identify with the concern behind the well-meaning prescription suggesting political 'sanyas' or isolation for Muslims, I believe it would be equally counterproductive and even suicidal in the long run. This is nothing but political escapism.

This may work for a small minority like Parsis but not for a 200-million strong community. By staying politically aloof and surrendering its democratic rights, India's second largest community would end up helping create an apartheid state like Israel.

What Muslims desperately and urgently need to do is build bridges with their Hindu brethren whose majority remains reasonable and incredibly tolerant. We pay much lip service to the Dalit-Muslim unity and solidarity with other marginalised communities. How many of us have actually connected with fellow travellers though? Strictly avoiding confrontational politics and emotive, irrelevant debates, we must pay attention to our real issues and concerns.

Secondly, and more importantly, each one of us should reach out to our non-Muslim friends and neighbours to consciously introduce our faith and address their apprehensions and misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims. This is the key to many of our problems. This is something that the Muslims who ruled India for centuries should have done. We are paying for their indifference and apathy. If we do not do our bit, our future generations will not forgive us. UP 2017 is a not the end of the world, if we draw the right lessons from it.

(Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf based writer. Email: )

News Updated at : Friday, March 17, 2017
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