As the BJP national executive conclave in Hyderabad last weekend planned to focus on Pasmanda (backward class) Muslims following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to ask the party to reach out to “deprived and downtrodden” sections in all communities, the development may turn out to be a cause of fresh worry for the Opposition parties, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the Muslim community largely votes against the saffron party amid polarisation.
According to UP BJP insiders, the party’s hope to get the support of Pasmanda Muslims has risen after nearly eight per cent of their voters favoured the party in the recent state Assembly elections even though the principal Opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) had a strong alliance with other OBC-based regional parties.
“In the Assembly poll, an SP candidate in Barabanki district raised concern over the shift in votes of Pasamanda Muslims towards BJP and asked me to speak to them,” said an SP leader from the Pasmanda Muslim community in Lucknow. “When I reached a village of Pasmanda Muslims there, the villagers said that they got houses, free rations, toilets, LPG cylinders, low cost medical facilities under the BJP government and that other parties never delivered such things to them. I tried to convince them to vote for SP but failed. They were less educated and hence they got influenced by such schemes.”
After the poll results that saw the BJP emerge as victorious again, the party’s new government headed by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath inducted Danish Azad Ansari (a Pasmanda Muslim) as its sole Muslim minister. In the previous Adityanath ministry, the sole Muslim minister was Mohsin Raza, who belongs to the forward class Muslim community.
Also, on various boards and academies related to minorities in UP, the BJP government has now appointed Pasmanda Muslims, party sources said.
Of a total of 34 Muslim MLAs elected in the recent UP Assembly polls, 30 are Pasmanda Muslims.
Pasmandas encompass those who are socially, educationally and economically backward. Pasmandas make up the majority of the Muslim community in the country. According to a Pasmanda leader, many castes have been identified as part of the Pasmanda Muslim community, which include Ansari, Mansoori, Kasgar, Raeen, Gujar, Ghosi, Qureshi, Idrisi, Naik, Faqeer, Saifi, Alvi and Salmani, among others. They have generally designated professions, run small-scale roadside businesses, and survive on small earnings, he said.
The UP BJP’s minority morcha president Kunwar Basit Ali said there are four crore Pasmanda Muslims in the state, claiming that they got the benefits of various welfare schemes of the Modi government as well as the Adityanath government “but the party could not reach out to them during the Assembly elections and thus could not get their votes as desired”. In the state BJP’s minority morcha, over 70 per cent functionaries are Pasmanda Muslims.
Sources said that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s affiliates too have sough to focus on Pasamanda Muslims, who have remained marginalised due to lack of education and financial problems. For instance, such organisations have been attempting to reach out to Pasmandas like Van Gujars, Muslim Rajputs and Muslim Jats engaged in low-scale farming in a bid to “bring them to the mainstream”, sources claimed.
“There are religious hardliners among Pasamanda Muslim youths, who follow the clerics and often become victims in communal disturbances. They get misled and later face police action. But a section of them has changed hardline views after getting benefits of the government schemes and are now preferring to join the society mainstream,” said a BJP leader.
The UP-based social organisation Pasamanda Muslim Samaj’s president Anis Mansoori said Pasmanda Muslims largely support the SP in UP. However, in Bihar, the community backs the principal Opposition RJD, headed by Lalu Prasad, as well as the ruling JD(U), led by CM Nitish Kumar, as the latter is believed to have worked for them, he said.
During the tenure of the previous Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government, Mansoori enjoyed the rank of a state minister. He then joined the BSP but returned to the SP fold later. He said Pasamanda Muslims need to be made aware about their rights, claiming that his organisation was dedicated to this cause.