(Source Election Commission of India/: Image Stratfor 2017)
Ever since the 2014 general election in India when the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a massive mandate, there is not a single Muslim Member of Parliament (MP) on the Treasury benches. After the just concluded Assembly elections for the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, there is a similar picture. The BJP has won with an unprecedented majority and yet again there is not a single Muslim Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) on the Treasury benches because the BJP did not field even one Muslim in the 403 Assembly constituencies.
Throughout the two-month long election campaign Amit Shah, the President of the BJP and the main strategist of the party, was repeatedly asked how he could not find even one Muslim candidate to field in such a large state and his constant reply was that “tickets are given on the basis of winnability”. Shah and his mentor, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, obviously knew that if they fielded a Muslim, he or she would lose because they had planned from the beginning that they would be carrying out a divisive campaign in which they would pit Hindus against Muslims.
Over the last month, five Indian states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur – have gone to the polls, but the most crucial election was in Uttar Pradesh (UP) as it is India’s largest state as well as being the most politically significant. It sends the largest number of MPs to the Indian parliament, and of India’s 12 former prime ministers, seven have represented this state including Modi who shifted here from his birthplace of Gujarat in 2014 to honour the state’s political importance.
UP has a population of 204 million of them 38,760,000 are Muslim (constituting 19% of the population), a number larger than the population of several Muslim countries. However, despite their numerical strength, Muslims in UP have become politically irrelevant. In the 403-member UP Assembly, there are only 24 Muslim MLAs down from 69 and needless to say, all of them are from opposition parties.
The BJP has won an unprecedented majority in UP garnering 325 seats, bettering former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi’s record tally of 309 in 1980. In a triangular contest, the BJP’s 41 percent vote share managed to win them more than 80 percent of the seats.
Modi and Shah, both hailing from the western state of Gujarat, have been implementing their polarising religious strategy that they have crafted together which has been bringing them electoral dividends all over the country. The duo are seen as the architects of the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat in which around 3,000 Muslims were killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless. Targeting and stigmatising Muslims, Modi has emerged as the hero of Hindus firstly in Gujarat where he ruled as Chief Minister for 13 years and now as Prime Minister since 2014.
Despite claiming that he is a man espousing ‘development for all’ Modi, the BJP’s star campaigner, has been spreading hate and fear, with his lies that Muslims are being pampered at the cost of the majority Hindu community. In the UP election, Modi, who left his prime ministerial duties to campaign all over the state for two months, used the motif of Ramadan versus Diwali (a major Hindu festival), claiming that the then government was discriminating in favour of Muslims by providing more electricity during the Muslim festival than the Hindu one. This was meant to be just one example of “Muslim appeasement”. The outgoing Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav, even produced figures to prove that Modi was lying but to no effect because the impression had created a home in the minds of the Hindus that they were being discriminated against. Thanks to such post-truths, caste-riddled Hindus of UP united and voted en bloc for the BJP while the Muslim vote was divided between the Samajwadi Party and Congress alliance and the Bhaujan Samaj Party.
“By not giving a single ticket to a Muslim, the BJP made it clear that it didn’t need to reach out to the community in any manner whatsoever to win an election. With Modi himself bring in the Ramazan versus Diwali motif into the election discourse, it was giving an open licence to the party’s local leaders to be more explicit and crude in their campaign against ‘Muslim appeasement’,” explains senior journalist Manini Chatterjee.
UP is undoubtedly the jewel in Modi’s crown and India is now well and truly in the grasp of a majoritarianism. “While constitutional rights – irrespective of religion – remain, social isolation has reached worrying proportions leaving a large number of secular Indians, including Hindus, with a sense of queasiness,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author and journalist.
The political isolation and irrelevance of Muslims have come about steadily under Modi, and because this strategy has enabled him to consolidate Hindus behind him, it is unlikely that he will give it up in the future. It is expected that in the 2019 general election Modi will use the same strategy even more forcefully and easily win a second term.
Treasury benches means on the side of the government or ruling party. There are no elected Muslim MPs in the Lok Sabha (like House of Commons) from the BJP at the national level. The couple of Muslim MPs in the BJP are nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House like our House of Lords. After this state election, there are no Muslim MLAs from the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly.