SP’s hope for Muslim vote in UP elections hinges on the TINA factor
Stepping up its campaign to confront the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the Samajwadi (SP) party has embarked on several outreach programs to appeal to different communities.
What has been evident so far, however, is that the SP has not made similar moves to reach out to Muslim voters in the state.
In the assessment of SP, this could be attributed to the âTINA factor (there is no alternative)â. The reason the party led by Akhilesh Yadav is not making efforts to reach out to the Muslim community, according to several SP leaders, is because the party remains convinced that Muslim voters have no choice but to support the SP “if they want to oust the BJP from power in Uttar Pradesh”.
While the SP formed alliances with five small parties for the UP polls, focusing on their bases of support among non-Yadav OBC communities, it did not partner with any party that had a supposed base. among the Muslims of the state. This was made clear some time ago when Akhilesh refused to ally with Assaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM. The main reason behind this, SP leaders argue, is that the party did not want to polarize the Hindu majority votes in favor of the BJP.
The Muslim community makes up about 20 percent of the UP’s population, but given the prevailing community situation, no opposition party is talking about it openly, fearing a backlash from the state’s majority community.
A senior SP leader said it was part of the party’s strategy not to speak openly about Muslim issues ahead of the elections because he feared community polarization among Hindu voters in favor of the BJP. âThe party’s internal polls have shown that it will gain the support of the Muslim community who want to overthrow the state’s BJP. The SP fears that if it is too vocal on Muslim issues, it will lead to polarization within the UP Hindu community, âsaid the leader.
The SP leader said the party held training camps for its base across the UP last year, during which local leaders were made to understand that public discourse on Muslim issues must be controlled whether the party wants to form its government in the state. .
âEveryone knows that the SP will be better for Muslims than the BJP, and that is why the Muslim leadership within the party also endorsed the strategy developed by the party leadership. During training camps held last year, local leaders understood that they had to keep silence about Muslims if they wanted to form a government in the state, âthe leader said.
For the past two years, Akhilesh has also refrained from raising Muslim issues in the state. While it was the SP that had helped the community following the CAA-NRC protests in 2019, during which 19 people had died in the violence, by announcing compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the families of the deceased, the party has since preferred to remain calm on various community issues.
So, while the SP has targeted the BJP government led by Yogi Adityanath on various issues related to Brahmins, backward communities and Dalits, it has chosen to remain silent on issues such as the anti-state conversion law. and the renewed requests for a temple at the contentious site of Mathura. Akhilesh also did not join the issue with senior BJP leaders when they made critical remarks against the Muslim community during their campaign in recent days.
On the other hand, the head of the SP did not hesitate to show his Hindu references. He has visited temples frequently during his visits to various districts in recent months.
Earlier this month, Akhilesh offered prayers at Lord Parshuram’s temple built by one of the Brahmin leaders of his party in the Gosaiganj area of ââLucknow. Likewise, he also visited a Hanuman temple in December during his visit to the Rae Bareilly district.
When asked if this would lead the party to lose the support of the Muslim community, SP national spokesperson Abdul Hafeez Gandhi said, âThe Samajwadi party believes in inclusive politics. We are aware of Muslim aspirations and will include them in our poll manifesto. While other parties make big promises, we have kept our promises every time we formed government. In the past, we have given adequate representation to Muslims in the SP government from 2012 to 2017. This time too, we will present Muslim candidates to ensure their adequate representation. Our greatest Muslim leader Azam Khan is in prison due to abuse of power by the current government led by Yogi Adityanath. “
The SP spokesman also said: âOther Muslim leaders in the SP are campaigning and reaching out to voters. They have been working in the field for several months and have been very well received. Another aspect is that the SP does not want voters to be polarized on religion and caste and forget about the real issues of inflation, unemployment, police atrocities, public order and women’s safety.
Another SP leader said that in order to shake off the perception that the party only works for Yadavs and Muslims, he also pushed several Yadav leaders as well as Muslim leaders to the background.
“The party wants to spread the image that it is a pro-Muslim and pro-Yadav party and that it does not work for other communities,” said the leader.
An SP source said that around 50 Muslim candidates will be presented by the party for the next polls in seats where the Muslim community has a large population. âThese seats will be in Moradabad, Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Mau, Rampur, Bahraich, Balrampur and the western districts of the UP like Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Meerut, where Muslims have a large population,â the source said.
In the 2017 UP Assembly polls, the SP fielded 57 Muslim candidates, despite having allied with Congress and contested 311 seats. Of these 57 candidates, 17 were elected to the National Assembly. In the 2012 legislative elections, the SP presented 78 Muslim candidates, 43 of whom were elected.
In the 2017 polls, a total of 24 Muslim candidates were elected to the 403-member UP Assembly, when the BJP won the election with a landslide.
In 2012, the figure of Muslim deputies was higher with 69 Muslim candidates elected to the UP Assembly, when the PS formed the government. This is the largest number of Muslim deputies elected to the UP Assembly since independence.
With the BSP remaining silent on Muslim issues and Congress focusing its campaign on female voters, the SP seems virtually certain to garner votes from the Muslim community in future UP polls.
âWe expect to get around 80-90% of the Muslim vote this time around. It is also because the Muslims realized that voting for another party would help the BJP, âsaid a senior SP leader from Eastern UP.
It seems the Muslim community thinks that in 2017 the BJP performed well and won over 300 seats because Muslim votes were split among several parties. The BSP had fielded 99 Muslim candidates in the state, the highest of all parties. But only five of those candidates were elected and in several constituencies Muslim votes were split due to the presence of several Muslim candidates in the fray.
With Azam Khan continuing to languish in prison, a new Muslim leader of his stature has not emerged from the ranks of the SP. While many SP members believe the party has “abandoned” Khan, several leaders believe the only choice the SP now has is to try to form its government without making it a poll problem, and then “fix it. wrongs committed by the BJP government against Khan and his family â. “If we make too much noise about it right now, we will do exactly what the BJP wants and polarize the Hindus, helping the BJP,” said a senior official in the Muslim community.
SP leaders also feel that the media is exaggerating the news of Akhilesh participating in Muslim programs. Party deputy in Moradabad, ST Hasan, said: âThere was a picture of Akhileshji at an Iftar where his head was covered. This image comes up every time, as Modiji changes his outfit every time he goes somewhere – for example, when he goes to attend a Sikh congregation, he wears a pagdi. But this is not seen by the media. But the only image of Akhileshji wearing a skullcap is shown whenever the BJP talks about the SP as being a pro-Muslim party.
He also said: âMuslims in the UP have been harassed under the BJP exemption at all levels. They know that AIMIM, BSP or Owaisi Congress cannot free them from this harassment regime, but only the SP can and therefore they will vote for us in a united way. And after forming our government, we will ensure their well-being along with all the other communities in the UP.