New Delhi: Of the 6,671 councillors elected to local bodies in Madhya Pradesh last week, 92 were Muslims contesting on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket. According to party leaders, this was the first time that the BJP distributed tickets to as many as 380 Muslims for local body polls in MP — compared to fewer than 50 in the previous elections, in 2014.
What came as a surprise to many was BJP Muslim candidates winning in wards that were seen as strongholds of the Congress. Defeating Hindu Congress candidates in at least 25 wards, Muslim candidates of the BJP also came second in 209 wards.
Compared to 2014 when the number was 400, this time around, the Congress fielded 450 Muslim candidates, of whom 344 won.
Muslims account for 6.57 per cent of the population of Madhya Pradesh, according to the 2011 census.
For instance, the BJP’s Abdul Kalam trounced Ashok Tripathi of the Congress in Anuppur. Mohammed Ayaaz of the BJP defeated Congress candidate Mohanlal in Katni, while the Congress’s Vaishali was routed by the BJP’s Abida Bi in Ujjain.
This was the fruit of a strategy to split the Muslim vote to achieve victory in Muslim-majority wards where the BJP could already count on the Hindu vote, according to party leaders ThePrint spoke to.
But although the BJP fielded Muslim candidates in small towns, the party took a different route in cities including Bhopal, Indore, and Jabalpur, where no tickets were given to Muslims.
This is the “victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort to include all communities in India’s development journey”, state BJP spokesperson Hitesh Vajpayee told ThePrint.
“Votes [by Muslims for the BJP] have shown faith in our policy of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (everyone’s support, everyone’s development). Our Muslim candidates defeating the Congress’s Hindu candidates marks a significant shift in the state’s politics,” he added.
The BJP won 24 out of 40 municipal councils and 123 out of 169 town councils in the local body polls. It holds a majority in almost 80 per cent of municipal corporations and councils in the state, party sources had told ThePrint earlier.
‘Results show Muslims willing to vote for BJP’
Muslim candidates fielded by the BJP won in four wards each in Gwalior, Khandwa, and Burhanpur. Similarly, Muslim BJP candidates won two wards each in Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh, Dewas, Narmadapuram and Narsinghpur.
It was a “strategic move to field Muslim candidates” in the local body polls, according to Rafat Warsi, state chief of the BJP Minority Morcha.
“This is the first time the BJP has fielded such a large number of Muslim candidates. Since the dynamics of local elections are different from assembly polls, our strategy proved effective in getting both Muslim and Hindu votes,” Warsi said.
Warsi claimed that the outcome of the local body elections shows that “Muslims are willing to vote for the BJP”, adding that the party only needs to spread awareness among the community about its “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” policy.
“Since the electorate is around 2,000-3,000 in most wards, we knew we would get maximum Hindu votes and victory was certain if we could split some votes of Muslims. So, we followed this strategy in Muslim-majority wards, and we were successful,” he said.
For instance, the BJP’s strategy in Khandwa — where its Muslim candidates won in four wards — was to count on a split in the Muslim vote in Muslim-majority wards.
Khandwa BJP district president Seva Daas Patel said, “We gave tickets to nine Muslim candidates, of whom four won. Two of them were women. In all four wards, the Congress party’s candidate was also Muslim, but lost to our Muslim candidate. All these wards where the BJP fielded Muslim candidates were Muslim-dominated.”
Another senior leader of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh said on condition of anonymity that while this strategy of fielding Muslim candidates in Muslim-dominated wards was a “smart strategy”, this cannot be replicated in the assembly elections, since a single assembly constituency is larger.
“Unlike wards, in large constituencies where the electorate is more than five lakh, it’s very difficult to win by splitting the Muslim vote,” the leader said.
But Muslim leaders of the BJP are hopeful that the party will pursue a similar strategy in the assembly elections slated for next year.
Warsi said, “This victory in the local body polls has given a ray of hope for the party. We will demand more seats in the assembly election. That the Muslim community is willing to vote for the BJP has been established in the local body polls.”
In the 2018 assembly polls, the BJP fielded only one Muslim candidate — Fatima Rasool Siddiqui in the Muslim-dominated Bhopal North constituency. Fatima, the daughter of Congress leader Rasool Ahmed Siddiqui, lost the election. Prior to that, only one Muslim candidate — the late Arif Beg — featured in the BJP’s list of candidates for the 2013 MP assembly polls.
The Congress, meanwhile, fielded only three Muslim candidates in the 2018 assembly polls.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)