As the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh draw closer, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), abandoning its age-old politics hostile to the Muslims, has gone for a new experiment. For the first time, we are hearing the term “Pasmanda Muslim” from the mouth of the BJP leaders. Clearly, the party is trying to draw the backward Muslims into its fold. Interestingly, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi also suddenly seems to have been filled with a love for the Pasmanda Muslims. The secular parties, on the other hand, continue to be allergic to Pasmandas. Pasmanda is an Urdu-Farsi word meaning “the people who have been left behind”. It refers not to a particular caste but to a gamut of castes.
Why this sudden change? Why are parties that have never got the votes of the Pasmanda Muslims parroting their name? Why the parties that the Pasmandas have been backing are avoiding taking their name? On the one hand, the word “Pasmanda” is being repeated ad nauseam; on the other hand it is being avoided. The Pasmandas have been caught between the “vocal communalists” and “silent secularists”.
In 1998, we established a social organization called Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, Bihar and two years later, renamed it All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz in response to popular demand. The term “Pasmanda” soon resonated with a lot of people. When any word becomes popular in society or politics, crooks invariably start misusing it. The word “Pasmanda” is being exploited for narrow gains both within and without the Pasmanda community.
Let us begin by exploring what the BJP is doing to curry favour with the Pasmandas. Starting from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, the BJP government has begun holding “Hunar Haats” all over the country along the lines of craft bazaars titled “Vishwakarma Haats” that it had organized to woo the Hindu artisans. The event at Rampur was held from October 16 to October 25. Artisans and handicraftsmen and handicraftswomen from 30 states and union territories were invited to the fair to showcase and sell their products. The government not only allotted stalls for free but also paid Rs 1,500 per day to each of them. The artisans were also allowed to bring a “guide” with them. The government not only paid for the passage of the artisans and their guides but also footed the bill for transporting their products. The campaign is being run under the leadership of three senior union ministers, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Dharmendra Pradhan and Arjun Ram Meghwal. Similar haats will be held in Lucknow and Allahabad. As part of the campaign, the BJP will also hold 200 public meetings. For the first time, the party will be deploying special teams for wooing Muslim voters in the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and four other states. According to Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the blueprint for the campaign is being prepared.
An old fable relates how a hunter lures the birds with food but the birds shouldn’t get caught in the trap laid by him. Will the Hindu and the Muslim Dalits, Adivasis and backward and extremely backward classes forget their sufferings, their oppression, usurpation of their rights and violence against them and fall into the deftly laid trap? Even seven decades after Independence are the people of these communities not mature enough to recognize the wolf in sheep’s clothing?
The general perception among the educated common people is that the members of these communities have developed enough understanding to see through such subterfuge. After all, it was the people of these sections, most of them working in the unorganized sector, who were the hardest hit by the dictatorial fiats of the Modi government, including demonetization. They lost their livelihoods and were left to fend for themselves. These sections were also the main victims of the Coronavirus pandemic and the consequent lockdowns. And the skyrocketing prices, burgeoning unemployment and growing hunger is also affecting them the most. The bodies found floating in the Ganga were mostly of the people from these communities and it was they who had to wait for hours to perform the last rites of their dead in crematoriums and burial grounds.
These communities were targeted on the pretext of “love jihad”, “ghar wapsi” and “gau raksha” and were the victims of lynch mobs. From Akhlaq to Junaid, from Pehlu Khan to Tabrez Ansari, it was people from these communities who had to face murderous assaults or were brutally done to death for no fault of theirs. Nazeeb was assaulted and abducted by Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP) goons on the premises of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Five years on, he is still missing and no one has even been arrested in connection with his disappearance.
On the one hand, the masked goons who had attacked students on the JNU campus are still roaming free and the policemen who used brutal force against students of Jamia Millia Islamia are yet to be punished. On the other hand, anti-BJP student leaders, including women, were promptly arrested and thrown behind bars. Ministers in the Modi government and top BJP leaders branded those spearheading the entirely peaceful nationwide protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) and their supporters as traitors to the nation and called for shooting them dead. Most of these protesters were women. Then, Delhi was pushed into the cauldron of communal violence. Dozens were killed and thousands of homes and shops were reduced to ashes. The ministers and leaders who incited violence were spared and those who sided with the victims were thrown into jails. Will these communities forget all this? Have the Pasmanda Muslims and Hindus of vulnerable sections lost their self-respect entirely? Have they become so thick-skinned that the BJP and its government will throw crumbs at them and they will grab them like animals?
Another question is that how and why the BJP is hoping to get the votes of the Pasmanda Muslims? Is it because since the BJP’s coming to power, the secular parties have been neglecting Muslims in general and Pasmandas in particular? What is the reason for this lukewarm attitude of political parties? One, if these parties patronize Muslims, they will make it easy for the BJP to polarize voters along communal lines and two, they may be taking Muslims and especially Pasmanda Muslims for granted. They may believe that the Muslims have no option but to vote for them, especially in constituencies where there is direct contest between the candidates of the BJP and of the secular parties. Muslim leaders of “forward” castes and religious organizations may also be the factor behind the neglect of the Pasmanda Muslims. The leadership of the secular parties may be under the impression that if they talk about Pasmanda Muslims, they will earn the ire of the Muslim leaders of the “forward castes” who are in a dominant position in all political parties and religious organizations.
Still another issue that merits discussion is why Owaisi, on the pretext of opposing the BJP, is trying to upset the apple cart of the secular parties in Uttar Pradesh. He had played the same game in the Bihar Assembly elections. He failed to achieve his objective in the West Bengal elections because out of fear of Mamata Banerjee, the BJP could not dare neglect the Muslims. The fact of the matter is that there is a major weakness in the politics of the secular parties which allows leaders like Owaisi to get a foothold among the masses.
The way “Godi Media” is publicizing the statements of Owaisi is indication enough of the way things are. Whether it is media platforms or Parliament, the BJP vs Owaisi fixed matches are all over.
Prior to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaders like Syed Shahbuddin and Abdullah Bukhari were pawns in the BJP’s game. For some years, BJP used the services musclemen-cum-politicians like Mohammed Shahbuddin (Siwan, Bihar), Azam Khan (Uttar Pradesh), Mukhtar Ansari and Atiq Ahmed Siddiqui to serve its interests. This “policy” yielded rich political dividends to the BJP. Since coming to power in Delhi the BJP is out to ruin them as it thinks they have lost their utility and should be finished off.
Now, the party is betting on Barrister Owaisi – an inheritor of the politics of the Muslim League. Owaisi is proving very useful to the BJP and it seems he has volunteered to be the cat’s paw of the BJP. Owaisi Sahib runs a medical college and many other educational institutions in Old City, Hyderabad. He owns vast properties. He is very influential on his home turf. While central agencies like ED, Income Tax Department and CBI are conducting raids on opposition leaders day in and day out, Owaisi is being conveniently spared. And this is not surprising either. After all, the BJP is benefitting immensely by Owaisi spoiling the game of the secular parties. And so, why would it set its guerilla fighters on him?
One recalls that after winning the 2019 elections, while addressing his party MPs, Modi had said that it was a measure of the success of the BJP’s leadership and its policies that all through the election campaign, no opposition leader even uttered the word “secularism”. And that was true. Except Left parties, no opposition grouping mentioned secularism during the run-up to the polls.
“Secularism” is not merely a word that finds mention in our Constitution. Secularism is the soul, the basic foundation of the Constitution. Remove secularism and we would be staring at a theocratic State. Today, India is secular only for namesake. Muslims are being treated like second-class citizens. They are being openly targeted. Pasmandas form 80 per cent of the Muslim population of the country and their ratio among the victims of oppression and violence is also the same. Dozens of Muslims became victims of mob-lynching in the country but rare was a national leader who visited their homes to commiserate with their families. A horrific riot was orchestrated in Delhi. Dozens were killed. But no national leader rose to the defence of the Muslims? Why was it that the supremos of none of the national or regional parties deemed it fit to extend their support to the agitation against CAA and NRC? Will CAA-NRC create problems only for the Muslims? That is not so. The poor and the backwards of all communities will suffer. But barring a few statements and tweets and creating a mild commotion in Parliament, the opposition leaders did not come out openly against the twin measures.
These leaders trying to use “soft Hindutva” to fight the BJP is symptomatic of their ideological bankruptcy. The traditional religious and political leadership of the Muslims has surrendered before the BJP. Some of them are even making furtive trips to Jhandewalan in Delhi to pay their respects to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat. Others are calling on Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Some are holding “Din Bachao” (Save the religion) rallies but are ready to sell off their “Din” for the price of a chicken. It is being said that many of them have not kept a proper account of money received by their organizations from abroad and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) is being used to make them fall in line. In 1985, when Shah Bano, 57, a mother of five children, was kicked out from her home by her lawyer husband, these religious organizations and political leaders kept quiet. When Shah Bano fought – and won – a long legal battle all the way from the lower court to the Supreme Court and her husband was ordered to pay maintenance to her, these leaders kicked up a nationwide row. Under their pressure, the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the Supreme Court judgment by amending the Constitution. To appease the other side, the government ordered reopening of the gates of Babri Masjid.
Pasmanda and Dalit Muslims are aware that if, despite the recommendation of the Sacchar Committee and the Rangnath Mishra Commission, Scheduled Caste status has not been accorded to Dalit Muslims and Christians and if those tribes that have been left out are not being included in the Scheduled Tribes – the blame has to be shared by various governments, including that of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and the traditional leadership of the Pasmanda Muslims. The BJP has suddenly developed a love for the Pasmanda Dalit Muslims. But will it include the Dalit Muslims among the SCs? Will it include the Muslim tribes among the STs? The answer is a clear “no”. It won’t do it for the same reason it won’t conduct a caste census. It knows very well that such moves would take the wind out of the sails of its agenda to polarize people along communal lines.
It is a bitter fact that in today’s India, Muslim lives and Muslim votes matter little. But it is also a bitter fact that the lives, property and dignity of members of other minority communities, of Dalits, of Adivasis and to some extent of all the poor and the backwards, are also under threat. Whether it is price rise or unemployment, epidemics or diseases, drought or floods, riots or violence – it is the Pasmandas of all religious communities that suffer the most. The solution, clearly, lies in the Pasmandas of all religions joining hands. Religion-based politics will destroy the nation.
History testifies that while the rulers have always schemed to secure their interests, the people have resisted oppression and fought for their rights. The Pasmanda community is proud of the fact that it fought on the ground against Savarkar’s concept of Hindu Rashtra and Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Even now, the Pasmandas know that the policies and the politics of the BJP, the Sangh Parivar and the Owaisi brothers are not in the national interest. Pasmandas have always been against communalism and religious mobilization of all hues. But, at the same time, they also believe that pointing out the mistakes of secular leaders and giving them an opportunity to make amends is their duty. As for being drawn to the likes of the BJP or Owaisi, Pasmandas should remember that if you see one fiend reading the Quran and the other poring over the Gita, you can safely conclude that you are living in dangerous times.
I would like to end with a couplet by well-known shayar Munnawar Rana:
Amir-e-Shahr ki hamdardiyon se bachke rahta
Ye sar se bhoj nahin, sar hee uyar lete hain
(Beware of the friendly rulers; instead of axing the load on your head, they will axe your head.)
(This article was originally published in Hindi by Aajtak. The English translation has been published here with the author’s permission.)
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