The Bharatiya Janata Party’s recent outreach programmes in several states to woo Pasmanda Muslims as part of its Mission 2024 might look unnatural to some, considering the party’s position with regard to the community. However, the BJP has mastered the art of uncommon electoral triumph by capitalising on all potential situations. Its astute combination of historical actions and new vision has helped it leave the opposition parties far behind.
Apart from the evolving processes of creating a narrative and outreach, the party has also ensured regular examination and usage of social engineering to bring in one of every three votes under its umbrella. This has helped it to become a formidable vote catcher across the country — particularly in the Hindi heartland.
Few weeks after the BJP’s national executive meeting in Hyderabad for focused outreach to Pasmanda Muslims, now the party has planned to reach out to the community in Uttar Pradesh — the state with the largest Muslim population in India.
The Pasmanda Muslims and BJP’s minority roadmap
In the Indian context, Muslims are not a monolithic category. They are broadly categorised into three social groups – Ashraafs (‘noble’ Muslims), Ajlaf (backward Muslims) and Arzal (‘Dalit Muslims’). The latter two are collectively known as the ‘Pasmandas’ — a Persian word meaning ‘the ones left behind’ and used to describe depressed classes among the Muslims. Leaders of Pasmanda Muslims claim that the community forms nearly 85 per cent of the Muslim population in India.
The BJP seems to have chalked out a strategy to reach out to the community on the grounds of inclusion and representation. Even in the 2022 UP assembly elections, the party was strategic in its approach to reach out to the Pasmanda Muslims, ensuring a targeted community outreach. The BJP’s acknowledgement of the heterogeneity within Muslims at this juncture can be understood in the following context.
Creating a political identity
The BJP won two consecutive Lok Sabha elections without the direct and large-scale support of the Muslim community — both Pasmandas and Ashraafs — and continues to show indications of a similar performance in 2024. Still, it plans to make inroads into the community, traditionally considered the vote bank of the Opposition parties. These plans, as per the Pasmanda leaders in the party, go back to before 2014.
Carrying out the social engineering formulae, the BJP’s outreach to the Pasmanda community is a step to gain an edge in UP and Bihar — states with significant Pasmanda populations of around 3.5 crore and 1.5 crore, respectively. This has the possibility of hugely impacting the Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar since the Muslim community forms a major share in the Muslim-Yadav alliance. Taking reference from the past, where the BJP greatly dented the parties by targeting non-Yadav and non-Jatav voter bases, reflects the same.
Moreover, the strong perception among the community that the political parties and like-minded civil society organisations did not pay attention to the question of internal stratification among Muslims adds to the situation. With the mainstreaming of the term ‘Pasmanda’, the BJP might be hoping for the possibility to unify all sub-castes in Muslim backward categories.
Act of balance or benevolence?
The BJP has already fit the cogwheels in the system by giving key positions to Pasmanda community leaders. The party did not give a single ticket to a Muslim candidate during the assembly elections in UP but has accommodated leaders from the community in various capacities. Danish Ansari, a Pasmanda, was made Minority Welfare Minister in March.
Additionally, in a targeted effort, the BJP has ensured representation to the community within the party fold in the form of Jamal Siddiqui as the national president of the BJP Minority Morcha and has also inducted several Pasmanda leaders into crucial positions, including Ashfaq Saifi as Minorities Commission chairperson, Iftikhar Ahmed Javed as the UP Board of Madarsa Education chairperson, and Chaudhary Kaif-ul-Wara as UP Urdu Academy chairperson.
Moreover, the BJP is planning to identify more individuals in the community for leadership roles.
The BJP also claims the success of welfare schemes: During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the slogan ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ — development for all. Leaders of the BJP minority cell claim that schemes for Muslims, focusing on women empowerment, health, education, and upliftment of backward Muslims were chalked out and implemented.
The UP Minority Welfare Minister affirms that during the pandemic, the free ration scheme majorly helped the Muslim community, especially the poor and backward Muslims. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana has directly helped poor Muslims. As many as 35 to 40 per cent of beneficiaries of several government schemes are Pasmanda Muslims and other economically disadvantaged Muslims.
Embracing Savarkar’s idea of India?
Additionally, giving space to Pasmanda Muslims syncs with the idea of the larger Hindu identity of India of Savarkar. He argued that a Hindu is one who considers India to be his motherland, the land of his ancestors and his holy land.
India is the ‘land of the Hindus’ as their ethnicity is ‘Indian’. Unlike Ashraafs, who trace their lineage to Arab and Persia, Pasmanda Muslims are believed to be the local Indian population that converted to Islam.
For a large majority of Pasmanda Muslims, despite years of Islamisation, indigenised customs and rituals have remained a part of their culture. Thus, in privileging Pasmanda Muslims, the BJP is trying to fit into the larger narrative of its programme of cultural indigenisation.
In its unique social engineering for garnering Muslim votes, there is a possibility that the BJP might further fragment the already ailing Muslim community. The mainstreaming of ‘Pasmanda’ in the political discourse of the country doesn’t ensure the upliftment of Muslim backward castes or bring the social division between the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ castes within the community to the forefront. This would diminish any possibility of the emergence of a united Muslim front facing suppression as a whole unit rather than as disintegrated castes.
Siddharth Raina is a Delhi-based independent researcher & Sara Jamal is an independent researcher previously worked for Reporterly, An Afghan Journal. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)