On September 7 last year, when the BSP supremo and four-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayawati, made her first public appearance at a party event ahead of the UP Assembly elections, it was an unusual sight. Amidst blowing of conch shells and slogans of “Jai Shri Ram”, “Jai Siya Ram” and “Har Har Mahadev”, Mayawati held out a trishul gifted to her there that was part of a series of such events organised to woo Brahmins in the state.
On March 10, the UP Assembly election results were declared, that showed the BSP registering its worst poll defeat in terms of seats, winning only one seat in the 403-member House and garnering just 12.8 % votes. Mayawati was then quick to attribute this BSP debacle to Muslims deserting the party in favour of the SP due to polarisation in the BJP-ruled state. She also said the party learnt its lessons and would change its strategy.
Mayawati and her party have since made as many as 21 statements on issues concerning Muslims so far. In the same six-month period before the elections, she had addressed the Muslim community-related issues just eight times, even as she had made multiple statements concerning Brahmins in the state.
BSP sources said that as identified by Mayawati right after the polls, Muslims have indeed deserted the party. “The effort is to bring them back to the party fold. That is why the party is actively engaging with the community and issues concerning with them in a more pro-active manner now. Perhaps our less than enthusiastic articulation of their concerns before the polls pushed them towards the SP in an environment that had been polarised by the BJP,” said a party leader who did not want to be identified.
BSP spokesperson Dharamveer Chaudhary told The Indian Express that Muslims had been “misled” in the last elections and were now “gravitating towards the BSP after realising their mistake”. He said the party was making multiple efforts at the organisational levels to win back their support.
“Look at Azamgarh bypolls. SP, which calls itself to be a party concerned about Muslims, fielded a (Mulayam Singh Yadav) family member as its candidate. Only we fielded a Muslim nominee. Though we lost, we got close to 30% votes. Now Muslims are saying that had they voted in better numbers with us, BJP would have lost Azamgarh,” Chaudhary said.
According to him, the BSP is vigorously making the move to give representation to Muslims in various party positions. Following the UP polls, Mayawati effected 75 changes in the party. In view of the changed scenario, it put the focus back on Western UP, where two senior party leaders, Naushad Ali and Munquad Ali, were given the charge.
“Munquad Ali is also our national general secretary. We have been given a target of getting 75,000 new members in every Vidhan Sabha seat. I can tell you that a significant number of those joining us are Muslims. Behenji (Mayawati) has always given adequate representation in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha to members of the Muslim society. Other parties are merely exploiting them,” Chaudhary said.
Of the eight instances that Mayawati spoke or issued statements concerning Muslim issues in the run-up to the UP polls between July, 2021 and March 10, 2021, she criticised RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s speech on Hindus and Muslims having the same DNA which, she said, was akin to “Muh mein Ram, bagal mein chhuri”, even as she also highlighted the targeting of Muslims in the name of “Love Jihad”.
In September 2021, Mayawati made two statements on Muslim issues: She praised the slogans of Hindu-Muslim unity that were raised at a Kisan Mahapanchayat, while in another statement, she again criticised Bhagwat for saying that Hindus and Muslims had same ancestors and asked if it was so why the Sangh and the BJP meted out “step-motherly treatment” to the Muslim community.
Two months later, Mayawati attacked SP chief Akhilesh Yadav’s statement on Jinnah, calling it an alleged attempt to polarise voters in cahoots with the BJP. In another statement, she said Muslims were “very unhappy” under the Yogi Aditynath-led BJP government and that their progress had come to a complete halt.
In December, she asked party workers to spread awareness about the polarising bids of the BJP and the SP, and in February 2022, she criticised communal politics around the Hijab controversy in Karnataka.
However, despite making fewer statements on minority issues, Mayawati still gave over 70 tickets to Muslim nominees for the UP Assembly polls. This was, however, lesser than the 2017 state polls, when she had fielded 100 Muslim candidates on the BSP ticket.
Following the UP Assembly poll outcome, on March 11, Mayawati while underlining that Muslims deserted the BSP, said, “But this is clear that if Muslim votes came together with Dalit votes, as it did by aligning with the TMC (in West Bengal) resulting in spectacular defeat of the BJP, then similar results could have been achieved here (in UP).”
Since then, Mayawati has been making two-three statements every month on Muslim matters, while refraining from commenting on Brahmin issues.
In March, while fielding Shah Alam as the BSP nominee for the Azamgarh bypoll, Mayawati claimed that whenever Muslims went with the SP the BJP won the elections but when the minority community, she added, showed faith in the BSP the saffron party was hurt.
Alam finished third in the bypoll in the SP stronghold behind the winning BJP candidate and the runner-up SP nominee, following which Mayawati said, “The results have once again proved that only the BSP can defeat the BJP. The BSP will continue to make a particular community understand this so that a comprehensive change can be brought in state politics.”
Subsequently, Mayawati has consistently criticised the Adityanath government’s “coercive measures” through bulldozers which she said targeted Muslims. She also criticised such demolitions after the communal violence in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, and spoke against Nupur Sharma multiple times.
In a move that even surprised the SP, Mayawati on May 12 even criticised the prolonged incarceration of senior SP leader Azam Khan, calling it “a travesty of justice”.
She also spoke on the issues concerning the Gyanvapi mosque, Mathura Eidgah and the row around Taj Mahal which, she said, was only aimed at “spreading hatred in the country”.
On the hacking of a tailor in Udaipur allegedly by two Muslim youths over the Nupur Sharma row, Mayawati condemned the killing but also attacked the BJP’s alleged bid to exploit the issue “for narrow political gains”, even as she mocked the saffron party’s outreach to Pasmanda Muslims as a “chimera”.
Recently, she criticised the UP government’s survey of madrasas in the state, saying that it was an interference in the affairs of the Muslim community and that the BJP dispensation was caught up with only Mandir-Masjid issues when other states were vying with each other to create jobs.