UP: With 100% Jump in Seats in Local Body Polls, Will AIMIM Spell Doom for SP?
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New Delhi: What is being seen as a major dent in the Samajwadi Party (SP)’s support base in the minority community, especially Muslims, the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) registered an impressive win in the recently concluded Urban Local Body (ULB) elections in Uttar Pradesh.
It got five chairpersons in the Nagar Palika Parishad and 75 councillors in the municipal corporation — a phenomenal gain of about 126% in seats from 32 in the previous polls. Its mayoral nominee in Meerut grabbed the second position after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 's candidate.
How should this result be analysed — a new phenomenon suggesting that Muslims are drifting away from a 'pluralist' party and supporting an 'exclusivist' force?
If this is so, isn’t the community unintentionally ending up favouring BJP as polarisation and counter-polarisation share the same logic?
Can this trend work in the general elections of 2024?
"Predicting bigger elections based on the outcome of local body polls might not be realistic, but — at the same time — it cannot be rejected as well," said Dr Mohammad Sajjad, who teaches history at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
The BJP has a direct electoral contest with SP in Uttar Pradesh. Still, the Akhilesh Yadav-led party — according to him — is on the verge of becoming another Congress because of its leadership's "drawing room politics".
"It always hesitates to take a stand for Muslim causes. Failing to find proper representation, the community has no choice but to rally behind the MIM," he told NewsClick, cautioning against its consequences.
Going with a "Muslim exclusivist" force rather than a "pluralist force", he said, Muslims end up "unintentionally supporting the BJP" because "their consolidation leads to very strong counter polarisation" as the saffron brigade base has other numerically significant communities in its fold.
Giving a rationale behind why the SP or other regional parties often fail to take a stand on the alleged persecution of Muslims, the professor said UP was "fast emerging as another Gujarat".
"The level of polarisation here is unprecedented. In this situation, regional political parties like SP or RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal), even if they want, can't take the risk of talking about or raising issues Muslims are faced with. If these outfits do so, even their core non-Muslim voters would shun them," he argued.
Why is this so? Sajjad explained, "The majority of this country is not ready to accept Muslims as minorities. They still consider them as a social class that has ruled India for hundreds of years. And, therefore, the persecution of the community fails to move them."
The professor has a piece of suggestion for the community, though he said it is "purely academic".
"It's high time Muslims should become silent voters. Their politics should look political. They should not put their stakes in political representation. Instead of seeking representation, they should lobby for education and trade," he advised, claiming that minorities worldwide do the same.
However, the majority of people this reporter spoke to refused to accept the results of the local body polls or any kind of trend that can influence next year's Lok Sabha elections. They did not even accept the MIM's success as the rise of the Asaduddin Owaisi-led party as a political alternative to SP or Congress.
"I don't find any rise of the MIM as of now. Local body elections are fought on hyper-local issues and the popularity of individual candidates. Even the class of Muslims patronising the party may not vote for it in the general elections. Once large sections of Muslims start acknowledging the party, only then it can be concluded that the party is gaining ground in the community," said Lucknow-based Ashfaq Ahmad Khan, an ex-marine engineer, who belongs to the family of the Nawab of erstwhile Mahmudabad.
There is a common complaint among Muslims against the SP across the state. They allege they wholeheartedly supported the party in the UP Legislative Assembly elections in 2022. Yet, SP maintained a distance from the community and chose to be quiet when an agitation against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) happened. None of its tall leaders, they complained, visited the families who lost their members in the massive crackdown on the protest.
The party leadership, said some, once again disappointed the community when its people were thrashed, mindlessly picked by the police and their homes were demolished for allegedly taking part in the protest against the abusive comments made against Prophet Muhammad by now suspended BJP leader, Nupur Sharma.
"Therefore, the Muslim electorate of the state is disgruntled. This result reflected that anger and a message that the community cannot be taken for granted. But at the same time, they also know that when it rains, one looks for shelter. So, they will go with the united Opposition to ensure BJP’s defeat in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls," said Prayagraj-based filmmaker Abbas Muzaffar.
He claimed the MIM wouldn't be able to consolidate the support in the bigger election and even the voters know that.
"It would be unfair to conclude that Muslims are siding with the MIM," said Azra Mobin, a Lucknow-based rights activist, who further claimed, "despite all genuine grievances, they continue to support the SP and Congress".
Mobin added that even when the community had an opportunity to create its leadership post-partition, they did not do so and trusted the so-called secular forces.
"When the community rejected the idea of exclusivism at that time, when the atmosphere was conducive, how can they now take such a disastrous risk in this age of polarisation?" she said.
There is no "organic reason" for the MIM to grow, argued several Muslim community members, finding the narrative that the party polarises elections as "extremely problematic".
"The MIM can't polarise elections like the SP and the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party led by former UP CM Mayawati) do. If Owaisi's charismatic leadership is to be blamed for the same, the same popularity was once enjoyed by Azam Khan, SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and now even Akhilesh Yadav to an extent. Why did such tall leaders fail to consolidate their core voters?" asked journalist Omar Rashid, who has been covering state politics for years.
He, too, reiterated that candidates' individual reputations as a leader and local issues played a key role in civic body polls.
"Party symbols only add to their prospects," he told NewsClick, explaining that Muslims alone can ensure victory or defeat of a candidate in the areas where they have sizeable concentration as the size of the constituency is much smaller.
The MIM witnessed such an unprecedented rise, Rashid said, possibly because of two reasons: the Muslim electorate perhaps thought the party deserved a chance at the local level, and they could have their leaders, at least in civic bodies. Political parties, too, know they need to pay a cost for larger interest; therefore, they pay little heed to this election.
"At the hyper-local level, you have the liberty to experiment. But the same cannot be done in Assembly or general elections, as existence is more important than political space," he said.
The senior journalist, too, agreed that there was resentment among Muslims against SP and BSP as the outfits, which claim to be champions of the minorities and dalits, failed to take a stand when it was needed.
"But the anger and grievances, which existed pre- or post-polls, would get diluted because political wisdom stresses a best-on-best alternative. And Akhilesh Yadav is not hostile to Muslims," he added.
"Those who have supported the MIM in this election know well that SP and BSP are best placed to give the community its representation," Rashid concluded.
Uttar Pradesh Congress minority cell chief Shahnawaz Alam refused to acknowledge the rise of MIM, arguing that it was true that Muslims deserted SP, at least in the local body election. Still, their votes went in favour of the grand old party.
To cement his claim, he presented data: in the mayoral election, BJP defeated the Congress in Muradabad by only 3,000 votes. Despite having an MP (ST Hasan) and five MLAs in the district, SP got just 13,000-14,000 votes.
The same happened in Shahjahanpur, where Congress came second and the SP a distant third. In its bastion of Sambhal, SP failed to retain its voters.
The MIM candidate came second in Meerut because the Congress nominee was weak.
While the Congress alone secured 7,031 votes in Hapur (a reserved seat), the alliance of SP, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Azad Party bagged 9,000 votes.
"Muslims have a sense of betrayal as the SP is slowly doing away its Muslim leadership. Azam Khan and Mulayam Singh Yadav began politics under one umbrella, but the former was imprisoned while the latter was posthumously conferred with Padma Vibhushan — India's second-highest civilian award. The party's Muslim MLAs are first jailed and later disqualified from the House, but Akhilesh Yadav is silent. Despite being a principal Opposition party in the state, it is maintaining a criminal silence on the demolition of Muslim houses," he added, concluding that the results of the UP ULB were "anti-SP, not pro-MIM".
Mohammad Ali, who has served as a correspondent in Uttar Pradesh for a reputed English daily, too, believes that this result cannot be considered a trend for future elections.
"There are several stages of a political party spreading its wings. This result only suggests that MIM as a political alternative has strengthened its position among Muslims locally. And that's how it all starts. This is the first time in the history of MIM in UP that one can see the party establishing itself. The growth from 32 to 80 seats is substantial in the context of local elections. But local elections are, at the end of the day, local elections only. It is very difficult to say that it will affect the outcome of the parliamentary elections," he pointed out.
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