With over 50 of its Muslim candidates emerging victorious in the recently concluded urban local body polls in Uttar Pradesh, including five nagar panchayat chairperson posts, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) efforts to reach out to the community is reaping dividends.
There is a shift in the Muslim community in favour of the BJP, says Huma Bano, who was among the 395 Muslim candidates fielded by the ruling party for the 14,500-odd posts that went to the polls. Contesting the councillor post from the Muslim-dominated Madanpura ward in the Varanasi Municipal Corporation, Ms. Bano had secured 500 votes and finished in third position.
In the 2017 polls, the party had fielded roughly 180 candidates from the community. “Then, only one Muslim candidate had won the chairperson’s seat,” says Kunwar Basit Ali, State president of the BJP’s Minority Morcha.
This year, around 80% of the 395 candidates were Pasmanda (backward) Muslims, who constitute about 85% of the country’s Muslim population. Out of the winning candidates, about 20 were from the backward section.
“Before the 2017 polls, Muslims did not come forward and demand tickets from the BJP. This time, there were multiple aspirants for the party ticket in several wards,” Mr. Ali says.
A large section of Muslims is showing faith in the BJP on realising that there is no discrimination in the government’s welfare schemes and their benefits are reaching the community, Mr. Ali says.
“Out of the 46 lakh houses built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in the State, 18.5 lakh beneficiaries are Muslims. The community also receives over 25% of the benefits of all welfare schemes,” he says.‘
‘Sense of safety’
More Muslims are gravitating towards the BJP because the threat of communal violence has decreased under the party’s rule in the State, says Gufran, a medical practitioner in Madanpura who supports the BJP.
“Most members of the Muslim community are daily wage workers and face the threat of joblessness in an atmosphere of polarisation and following incidents of communal violence. When the BJP is in power, the threat of such violence decreases,” he says.
The notion that the BJP is anti-Muslim is a myth propagated by Opposition parties, says Salim Kassar, a Pasmanda Muslim who contested the ward councillor post in Muzaffarnagar as a BJP candidate. The district in western U.P. had witnessed the killing of over 60 persons in riots in 2013.
Ms. Bano says Muslims who contest as BJP candidates still face criticism from a section of the community. “Though my family members and neighbours supported me, fundamentalists harshly criticised me for joining the BJP and said I had sold my conscience,” she says.
The party’s strategy of fielding candidates in its strongholds and districts with a sizeable Muslim population proved successful in the recent polls. It had put up Muslim candidates in over 180 councillor and ward member seats in areas such as Amroha, Bijnor, Moradabad, Rampur, Sambhal, Meerut and Bulandshahr.
Over 30 victorious candidates, including four nagar panchayat chairpersons, were from these regions in western U.P. In Gorakhpur Municipal Corporation, Baba Gambhirnath — a seat reserved for OBC women — was won by the party’s candidate, Hakibul Nisha.
According to BJP leaders, the party will be stepping up its measures to reach out to the community. “This is a good beginning in the process of building mutual trust. Now, people from the community are flocking to the party and our membership has increased. Such efforts will be accelerated,” says Haider Abbas Chand, a resident of Varanasi and former State chief of the BJP’s Minority Morcha.