Communal situation in UP and the 2017 election

Communal situation in UP and the 2017 election

By Aishwarya P. Sharma | 11 September, 2016
Apart from the caste arithmetic that has always been crucial for the state, this is an election that will be fought to keep people out of UP.
Will she or won’t she is the question these days in the run-up to the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Whether Priyanka Gandhi will actually step in to “save” the grand old party of India from becoming irrelevant has already been decided. Her husband’s fate is unlikely to affect her political fortunes. For an average UP-wallah could not be bothered.
Otherwise, how does one explain the rise of politicians like Raja Bhaiya in UP? The resurrection of Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar from the ashes is another example. Mayawati’s continued relevance in UP, despite scores of corruption allegations, is a case in point. The UP election, it needs to be understood, will be fought on the future of UP, not on the basis of controversial court cases. While the media and the BJP might like to busy themselves with preparing a blueprint for attack on Vadra, the reality is Vadra is not important in UP and neither in the Congress party. The Congress too is not relevant in UP at the moment despite championing the cause of Muslims.
The Congress and Muslims have had a rather chequered history in UP. The Congress has always courted them, while questioning their loyalty at the same time since the 1950s. It has constantly failed to address this dichotomy or prefers it that way. The first general elections were fought on the agenda of partition and loyalty; where a vote for the Congress was sought in return for the stamp of loyalty. Similarly, the Evacuee Property Act, and later the Enemy Property Act, was a means for furthering the discourse on the other, while offering security to them. Nothing has changed since then. “Go to Pakistan” still remains a popular battle cry in UP. UP’s Muslims have in the past accused Congressmen of playing roles in a series of riots that have rocked the state since Independence. The 1961 Aligarh riot, riots following the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 are examples where Muslims have implicated the Congress and questioned its secularism. What the Congress has not understood yet is that it has adopted a wrong approach towards people it claims to represent. It has consistently treated secularism as its gift to the people and the result is that secularism is the most abused word in the country today. The Uttar Pradesh elections early next year are being seen as a kind of dress rehearsal for the 2019 elections and it is not difficult to see why. UP, the most populous and politically most engaging states of India holds the key to power in Delhi. The permutation and combination of caste, religion and region make it a heady cocktail. The stakes are high for all political parties who are going to wrestle it out in the badlands of UP, but also for the Muslim voter. There are many who would argue that this is a test for “achche din”. It is, however, much more complicated than that. Muslims and Brahmins in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh have been denied importance primarily because the BJP is eyeing the role of Mayawati and Mulayum. But it could be a crucial mistake that might be a game changer. UP-wallahs want their own at the helm in the state and they don’t care who they send to Delhi.
Muslims and Brahmins in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh have been denied importance primarily because the BJP is eyeing the role of Mayawati and Mulayum.
Muslims and Brahmins in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh have been denied importance primarily because the BJP is eyeing the role of Mayawati and Mulayum.
Apart from the caste arithmetic that has always been crucial for the state, this is an election that will be fought to keep people out of UP. Who they want to keep out has already been decided. Even though the Muslims of UP are a divided lot, the focus has always been to emphasise on their homogeneity. Stereotyping them has reaped huge dividends in the past and it is bound to be used again. It is this clash of their many identities which will decide the election in constituencies where they are numerous. Muslims in UP are well aware of the narrative of terrorism being woven with a Muslim protagonist. It may not be the intention, but the message sent out is clearly that. Being the “other” in the Indian narrative, they desire jobs, assurances of security and freedom from riots or being implicated in them. An average UP Muslim is tired and politically conscious like the rest of the state. UP society is one of the politically most sound; or highly political. Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and Muhammad Akhlaq in 2016 are signs that things have not changed. The campaign is the same, the accusations are the same and so are a host of other things. So it is not only a question of beef, religious tolerance, riots and yoga in schools, rather there are scores of other issues that concern an average Muslim in UP and in India. Waqf remains a crucial issue especially in the context of the support it provides in sponsoring religious education, Muharram processions and distribution of food during Eid. 
The current trend of tokenism on news channels, especially where Muslims are concerned, is worrying. For its reflects our failure to see beyond the image of the Muslim with a beard, offering namaaz five times a day and eating beef. The UP elections are round the corner and no discussion of the state is possible without a discussion with Muslim religious heads. Second, the spate of terrorist attacks that have rocked the world has brought the hatred for Muslims to the forefront. More so, the arrest of ISIS sympathisers in Hyderabad and the bloodbath in Dhaka have made many suspicious and the Muslims more anxious about their safety. The events in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey are being watched closely for there will be many who will argue that the entire community is to blame. History has shown us that we are not averse to linking Indian Muslims with Muslims in Pakistan, Syria or Baghdad, for many feel that it is the Muslim brotherhood that transcends territorial boundaries. The Khilafat and non-cooperation movements in the 1920s were an experiment in this regard. But what we fail to realise is that Indian Muslims have little in common with their Saudi counterparts. In fact, a Muslim in UP has little in common with a Muslim in Bihar, Mewat, Hyderabad or Mumbai. In UP, in the absence of a potent Muslim leadership, the maulanas are courted by all political parties. The rise and rise of the Shahi Imam in the 1970s and 1980s is a case in point. But the pull of the masjid is no longer enough. It might entertain some people out to make mischief, but it is highly likely that it would influence some votes, but not an entire election. For if this is true, how would it explain the case of thousands of Muslims voting for the BJP in 2014? No matter how much we might like to harp that we need to move beyond the clutches of caste and religion, but in UP this is basis of the politics of the state. The battle for jobs and the struggle for space is what defines politics in the state. It is here that caste and religion are seen as an opportunity. A look at those seeking government jobs among Muslims and their success rate would show that the Muslim youth do not seek God; they seek jobs, a better life devoid of stigma and protection from arrests. In UP, the prospect of the BJP coming to power baffles them, igniting their fears. In the coming elections, they are sure that they want to keep the BJP out. The BJP wants to keep Mayawati and Mulayum out. The Congress, on the other hand, wants to ensure that it is not ousted from areas where it has a marginal presence. It promises to be a tough election. Will it decide who comes to power in 2019? It is difficult to say.