BJP testing waters in Muslim votebank via Pasmanda outreach in Bihar

BJP’s hope of winning the support of Pasmandas emanates from the fact that they are economically, socially, and politically weak and impatient with the hegemony of upper-caste Muslims, or Ashrafs

BJP's Pasmanda Muslim outreach in Bihar
If the BJP becomes successful in driving a wedge — however small —  between Ashrafs and Pasmandas, it will have a cascading impact on Muslim vote politics. Image: iStock

Pasmanda is a Persian word that means “the ones left behind.” In Bihar, of the around 17% Muslim population, 80% are Pasmandas. 

The BJP’s hope of winning the support of at least a section of Pasmandas emanates from the fact that they are economically, socially, and politically weak and impatient with the hegemony of upper-caste Muslims, or Ashrafs.

BJP strategists also hold the view that the party could connect with the Pasmanda community through the Narendra Modi government’s welfare schemes, such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, Ayushman Bharat, and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Suraksha Yojana.

With non-BJP parties failing to meet the aspirations of Pasmanda Muslims, the party has started wooing them in earnest, political analyst Indrajit Singh noted.

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The BJP’s Pasmanda outreach got an impetus after  Modi, while addressing the party’s national executive meeting in Hyderabad in July, suggested that party leaders extend their support to deprived and downtrodden sections of all communities. He also advised the BJP to take out a “Sneh Yatra” (affection rally).

If the BJP indeed becomes successful in driving a wedge — however small —  between Ashraf (upper-caste)  and Pasmandas, it will have a cascading impact on Muslim vote politics, remarked Singh.

DM Diwakar, former director of AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, said the BJP’s sole agenda is trying to divide Muslim votes with the objective to brighten its election prospects, as its ultimate goal is to gain power. “The BJP’s attempt to woo Pasmanda Muslims is not more than an example of political opportunism,” he remarked.

How Pasmandas are viewing it

The All-India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM), which has been spearheading the cause of Pasmanda Muslims since 1998, is not very convinced about the BJP’s outreach. AIPMM president and former Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar Ansari said the party is feigning concern for the community.  

Were the concern genuine,  why were Bilkis Bano’s (a Pasmanda) rapists garlanded after being released from the jail, he asked. It is more shocking considering that Modi himself belongs to the Modh-Ghanchi caste, which is OBC in Gujarat, he added.

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Ansari  said the BJP will not be able to gain much from its attempt to woo Pasmanda Muslims. It is another matter that it will be able to find some  gaddar  (traitor) or lalchi (greedy) people among them, ready to jump on their bandwagon, he added.

“It is a tragedy that the BJP has been working against Pasmandas and is now trying to project itself as their well-wisher,” said Ansari.

He further said BJP leaders are suffering from intellectual bankruptcy and a lack of ideology, which can be understood from the limitation of their vocabulary. “BJP’s politics can well be compared with mechanical engineering, fixing one social group here and another group there,” he remarked.

Ansari said students are now doing research on Pasmandas in prestigious Indian and foreign universities such as JNU, DU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Bombay University, Oxford University, Columbia University, and Berlin University.

No-SC tag for Muslims

The Centre should explain why it appointed a three-member commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, when it justified no-SC tag for Dalit Muslims and Christians in the Supreme Court, said Ansari. The commission was appointed to consider the possibility of granting SC status to “new persons who have historically belonged to the Scheduled Castes but have converted to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.”

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The Centre, however, told the Supreme Court that SC status has not been granted to groups that claim to have been Dalits in the past but converted to Islam or Christianity because social stigma such as untouchability is not prevalent in these two religions.

“We have already received reports of the Rangnath Commission recommending 10% reservation for Muslims and the Sachar Committee revealing deep economic deprivation among Muslims. Still, the latter have not been given their rights,” he remarked.

 AIMIM trying to woo them, too 

Both the BJP and the AIMIM have intensified their efforts to woo Pasmandas. Recently, in Patna, BJP MLC and former Union Minister Sanjay Paswan held an event where RSS leader Ram Madhav and prominent Muslim leaders  including Ghulam Gaus, Sabir Ali, and Akhtari Begum  were present. They discussed the issues affecting Pasmandas at length.

Besides Modi’s suggestion to take out a Sneh Yatra to win the confidence of Muslims, the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an RSS affiliate, is also likely to reach out to people to allay any apprehension and “phobia” among the minority community created by “opposition parties.”

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AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi is also aggressively trying to make a dent in the Muslim vote bank, particularly concentrating on Pasmandas. The party is optimistic about weaning away a good number of Muslim voters from RJD, as its five candidates emerged victorious in the five seats of Seemanchal region in the state. It is another matter that four of the five AIMIM MLAs switched over to the RJD later.

AIMIM’s growing influence in the state was also seen during the recent assembly by-election in Gopalganj, where its candidate Abdus Salam got 12,214 votes, cornering 7% of the total votes. It also showed how AIMIM could break geographical boundaries and make its presence felt beyond Seemanchal. RJD lost the Gopalganj by-election by a mere 1,700 votes.

Former Patna College principal Nawal Kishore Choudhary said it would be very difficult for the BJP to win the support of Pasmandas. The saffron party can, however, think of it by providing some “real benefits” to them, he added.

“Since Muslims in general and Pasmandas in particular attach their security to the BJP’s politics, and they are also suffering from a sense of insecurity and possessing a ghetto mentality, it will not be easy for the BJP to gain significantly by wooing them,” he remarked. “Despite that, BJP’s Muslim outreach is a good move, good for society and good for the country.” 

When asked how far the BJP will be able to win the confidence of Pasmandas, political analyst Pushya Mitra said it was too early to comment on that. The BJP typically formulates long-term strategies to achieve goals, and so it would implement its plan to woo Pasmanda Muslims at a slow pace, he added.

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Political analyst Sanjay Kumar said Pasmandas have faced discrimination not only from the other communities but  within the Muslim community, too. At this stage, it is difficult to say how much success the BJP will achieve by reaching out to them, but the party succeeded in at least starting a debate on the issue, he added.

RJD’s response to BJP’s new posture

The BJP’s attempt to woo Pasmandas and AIMIM’s growing influence in the state have prompted the RJD to consolidate its Muslim votes, although not as aggressively as it should be. Its response to the BJP’s Pasmanda outreach has been lukewarm so far.

“The RJD is not watchful about BJP’s Pasmanda outreach so far,” Mitra remarked.

He said the stand of non-BJP opposition parties on the “internal issues” of the Muslim community, like triple talaq and burqa (veil), is also not as forceful as it should have been. It only gave the BJP a chance to exploit the situation to its advantage, he elaborated.

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“These so-called secular parties take Muslims for granted and that is the reason AIMIM wins five seats in Bihar,” remarked Mitra. Leaders of these parties even hesitate in campaigning for Muslim candidates but try to get the votes of the community by showing them the BJP threat, he added.

Diwakar said the RJD should stick to its old MY (Muslim and Yadav) equation and work on basic issues, such as employment, education, and health, being faced by Pasmandas. He said the RJD should look committed to the cause of Pasmandas, as any indifference on this count ultimately adversely impacts the Muslim vote bank.

On the RJD’s response to the BJP’s outreach, Kumar said: “There is no tangible action on the ground, as the RJD is optimistic of winning the support of all Muslims by playing its anti-BJP card deftly.”

On the other hand, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) also enjoys a good support base among Pasmanda, as he launched schemes for the weaver (Julaha) and other backward castes in the Muslim community. He also gave special focus to the constitution of boundary walls around graveyards (kabristans), and pay parity for Madrassas teachers, making him acceptable to the Muslim community despite his long association with the BJP.

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