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After Tricking OBCs and Dalits, BJP’s Magic Show for Pasmanda Muslims

Why the BJP did not split elite Hindu castes into subgroups while introducing the EWS quota should be the first question Pasmandas ask themselves—and the ruling party.
After Tricking OBCs and Dalits, BJP’s Magic Show for Pasmanda Muslims

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI

The Bharatiya Janata Party played tricks on the Other Backward Classes and Dalits of Uttar Pradesh and turned a large segment among them against the Yadavs and the Jatavs, arguably the most dominant caste groups in these two categories. The BJP’s trickery splintered them, perhaps irreparably, to its advantage.

The BJP has now mounted a magic show for the Pasmandas, a term which means “those left behind” and refers to Muslims belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs). With its magic show, the BJP hopes to fragment the Muslim community, expand its own support base, and weaken the Opposition before the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

The game of deception was initiated after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the BJP national executive meeting in Hyderabad in July, exhorted party workers to reach out to not only weaker sections among Hindus but also the “deprived and downtrodden” sections among minorities, “such as the Pasmanda Muslims.”

Modi also suggested to the BJP to take out “Sneh Yatras”, or love yatras, instead of “Sangharsh Yatras,” or yatras for waging struggle, as the party is no longer in the Opposition. In the same speech, he said Hyderabad was Bhagyanagar for the BJP.

Some love that!

Wooing Pasmandas

Since Modi’s Hyderabad speech, the BJP has made moves to woo Pasmanda Muslims. Danish Azad Ansari was appointed as Uttar Pradesh’s Minister of State for Minority Welfare; Iftikhar Ahmad Jawed was made the chairperson of the State Board of Madrassa Education, as was Chaudhary Kaif-ul-Wara of the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Akademi. The media spotlighted their Pasmanda background to foreground the BJP’s strategy.

But these appointments are to posts traditionally reserved for Muslims. Their salience in India’s larger social and power frame is minimal—and, ironically, exclusionary.

For instance, in 2014, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was made the Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs. Eight years later, Naqvi is in the Cabinet but remains in-charge of just Minority Affairs. This shows the BJP will unlikely assign Muslims, whether Pasmanda or otherwise, with heavyweight ministerial portfolios.

Indeed, the BJP’s magic show is all about throwing the crumbs of power to Muslims—and is certainly not about giving them a share in power in proportion to their population. These crumbs of power will now be tossed to Pasmandas, in the hope of splitting the community between them and non-Pasmandas. This could shrink the support base of non-BJP parties, which are largely recipients of the community’s votes.

The media recently headlined the BJP’s decision to grant four tickets to Pasmanda Muslims in the forthcoming elections to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which has 250 seats. This means only 1.6% of the BJP’s candidates will be Muslim. Nothing much to crow about, is it?

The BJP nominated Ghulam Ali Khatana, a Pasmanda from Jammu, to the Rajya Sabha. Khatana was the face of the Pasmanda Intellectual Meeting held at Lucknow last month. He said Opposition parties consider backward Muslims as a mere “showpiece.”

At the same meeting, Kunwar Basit Ali, the Uttar Pradesh BJP minority morcha president, asked Muslims to return the favour shown by his party to Pasmandas by voting for it. Favour? Ali thundered, “How long will you carry the ideology that used to make governments by getting you killed in the name of riots? Under the BJP rule, no riot has happened, no sister or daughter has been widowed, no brother is in jail in connection with riots.”

The Lie

Ali is fibbing. In an earlier piece, I provided data to show that hate crimes, patented by the Sangh, gash and bleed Pasmandas relatively far more than non-Pasmandas, or upper caste Muslims. The piece also establishes that Muslims are attacked not on account of their caste identity but for their Muslim-ness.

This is the point former Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar, who invented the term Pasmanda, hammered in his letter to Modi: “What’s the point of taking out ‘Sneh Yatra’ if hate statements and bulldozers go on?” Anwar went on to say, “Pasmanda Muslims have been worst hit of all the campaigns in the name of cow protection, ghar-wapsi, love jihad, Tablighi jihad in the time of Corona pandemic or temple-mosque conflicts that have been going on since 2004.”

Anwar’s letter is an example of speaking truth to power. For instance, he asks in his letter, “Didn’t Home Minister Amit Shah ji call upon the people, at the time of Delhi Assembly elections when a peaceful movement of Muslim women against the NRC [National Register of Citizens] and CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] was going on, to ‘press the button in such a way that Shaheen Bagh gets electric shock’? Mr Prime Minister, does it suit a person of as high a status as you to say that we recognise people by their sartorial preference? [A reference to Modi’s speech before the 2019 Jharkhand Assembly Elections.]”

The lure of quota

The BJP is, quite evidently, walking on a parallel track, demonising Muslims even as it woos the Pasmandas, believing their desperate existence will have them to repose faith in the BJP’s promise of ushering in a new dawn for them.

This is evident from the Modi government’s decision to constitute a three-member commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, to examine whether those among Dalits who converted to other religions—Islam and Christianity—should be included in the SC reservation.

But the government’s intent is suspect. For one, the commission has been given two years to submit its report. This means the report will come months after the May 2024 elections. It is debatable whether the BJP, after securing the votes of Dalit Muslims, would bother to implement reservation for them in case the Balakrishnan Commission makes such a recommendation.

For the other, the Union government could have issued a Presidential order to insert Dalit Muslim and Dalit Christian castes in the SC list, based on a 2008 review-study commissioned by the National Commission of Minorities. The study found that Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians suffered the same harsh treatment as fellow Dalits in other religions. Dalit Muslims were the worst off among all Dalits; under-represented among the affluent and over-represented among the poor.

No wonder, sociologist Satish Deshpande, the lead author of the study, points out, “It is wise to remember that ‘study commissions’ are a classic device of evasion and suffer widely varying fates. We must wait and see if the government will walk its talk.”

Indeed, the BJP resorted to the “classic device of evasion” to not fulfil its promise of giving to relatively more depressed groups among the OBCs and Dalits of Uttar Pradesh a greater share in the reservation earmarked for them. Here is how it happened.

Tricking OBCs, Dalits

During the 1990s, Samajwadi Party (SP) had consolidated, to a large degree, the OBCs as its support base and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had done likewise with Dalit subgroups. It was then said that the SP takes the votes of OBCs but favours only the Yadavs, the caste to which party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav belonged. Similarly, it was alleged that Kanshi Ram and Mayawati favour their own Jatav caste over other Dalit subgroups.

To sound credible, such allegations required to be quantified. In 2001, Rajnath Singh, then Uttar Pradesh chief minister, constituted a social justice committee under Hukum Singh, who was a minister then. The committee said its survey showed that that the Yadavs were 20% of the OBC population in Uttar Pradesh but had 33% of state government jobs.

The committee split the OBCs into three groups—backward, more backward and most backward classes. Only the Yadav caste was slotted under the backward caste and assigned just 5% of jobs in the OBC reservation pool.

But the committee’s own report showed that the Yadavs were not the only group to have jobs higher than their percentage of population. For instance, the Jats constituted 3.6% of Uttar Pradesh’s OBC population but their share in jobs was 6.85%, and the Kurmis were 7.46% of the OBC population but had a 12.49% share in jobs. The more numerous a caste group the more likely it is to get a lion’s share of jobs in the reservation pool.

The Hukum Singh committee also claimed that the Jatavs were 55.70% of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh and had 56.77% of state government jobs. Although marginally over-represented, the Jatav caste was the only one placed in one group—and assigned 10% of the 21% of government jobs reserved for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. The remaining 11% was allotted to other Dalit subgroups.

The committee’s recommendations were not implemented, as Rajnath Singh bowed out of office in March 2002. Nevertheless, the BJP now had data to bolster its largely bogus claims, amplified by the media, that the SP favoured the Yadavs and the BSP the Jatavs. Although the report was considered motivated, as it had been of a committee headed by a BJP leader, the campaign against the domination of Yadavs and Jatavs took off.

In May 2018, Chief Minister Adityanath constituted yet another committee under Justice Raghavendra Kumar to ostensibly rationalise reservation. This committee placed the Yadavs, Kurmis, Jats, Sonars and a few small OBC groups under the backward category and assigned them 7% reservation. The more backward castes were allocated 11% and the most backward the remaining 9%.

The Kumar committee report was selectively leaked to the media in the months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, enabling the BJP to wean away a substantial percentage of non-Yadav OBC votes from the SP and non-Jatav Dalit votes from the BSP.

Three years have passed and yet the Kumar report has not been implemented, even as the BJP, out of the blue, introduced 10% reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections, essentially comprising the upper castes, in 2019, without even conducting a survey. If all this is not trickery, what is it then?

For a reality check, ask yourself: Why hasn’t the BJP subcategorised the upper castes for the EWS reservation, as the two committees did for OBCs and Dalits? This is just the question the Pasmandas should ponder over instead of being spellbound by the magic show the BJP has mounted for them. When the BJP can trick other subaltern social groups, why would the fate of Pasmandas be any different?

The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.

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