The writing was very much on the wall that the Muslim representation would take a nosedive in the new Uttar Pradesh assembly before the elections results were announced. During my coverage of the elections in the state, there were enough hints after I interacted with a cross-section from the Muslim community. Muslims perhaps had not drawn any lesson from the 2014 general elections’ drubbing for the first time after Independence; they collectively failed to send even a single Muslim member from the state to the Indian Parliament.
Deoband, home to the famous Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom, represents the microcosm of Muslim voters’ attitude and behavior which is a Muslim-dominated town in Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh.
‘Deoband mein Hamaari (Ansariyon) ki sankhiya 12 hazar sey ziyada hain; SP-Congress ke ummedwar ke bridari ziyada nahi hain, hum BSP ko support karengey.”
(In Deoband, we are the largest biradari (Ansari, group), so we would go with the BSP candidate). This was uttered by Ziauddin Ansari who is the chairman of Deoband Municipality in an interaction. On being asked what happened at the time of last general elections, Ansari argued that sitting MLA Syed Maviya Ali would not be able to garner ‘Hindu’ votes whereas BSP candidate Majid Ali has the fair chance of getting Dalit votes to win the contest. There was virtual vertical spilt in the community.
Muslim population in Deoband is always divided in Shaiyokh and non-Shaiyokh, said Anjum Usmani, retired assistant director of a public broadcasting institution and an alumnus of Darul Uloom. He said it is an irony that Muslims give more considerations to their Biradari interest than the Millat interest.
The results of this Muslim-dominated seat do not need any explanation. The seat has an electorate of 3,26,864 in which Muslim electorate is divided between what is perceived as ‘upper caste’ and other as ‘backward caste’ Muslim candidates, therefore paving way for easy victory of the BJP candidate. The constituency witnessed a voter turnout of more than 50 percent as BJP’s Brijesh Pathak got 1, 02,244 votes while his nearest rival Majid Ali obtained 72,844 votes and the sitting SP MLA Maviya Ali came distant third securing 55, 385 votes who had won the seat in a by-election held in 2015.
Though, it is not for the first time that a non-Muslim was elected from Deoband but it reflects the fault-line among Muslim voters who are divided along class lines in UP with more preference given to Biradiari than the collective aspiration of the community.
Deoband is not only a seat of great Islamic seminary but houses more than 300 small and big madrasas, in fact the whole area of western UP, is dotted with madrasas. Besides this, UP houses all big and noted seminaries of all school of thoughts including Darul Uloom Nadvatul Ulema, Misbah-ul Uloom, Jamia Darus Salfia, and Jamia tul Falah, and others. However, it seems that Islam’s universal message of equality did not reach to them. A recent study by the Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies reveals that the Muslim society in Uttar Pradesh maintains distinctions and practices discriminations based on ‘caste’. It has done a survey of 7,195 households located across 14 districts in four regions of Uttar Pradesh that shows ‘caste’ based stratification existing in Muslim society. That is one of the reasons that Dalit-Muslims political alliance did not succeed much in the state.
Numerically, Qureshi(s) and Ansari(s) are the two major traditional occupational biradaris in the state. Besides these, there are other biradaris like Saifi (Blacksmith), Raaian (gardener) and Salmaani (Barber), etc who also aspire for political space for themselves after the advent of Mandal politics or ‘social justice politics in the 90s.
Unlike in other parts of the country particularly South India, in this belt biradari prejudices come into play to the fullest during the elections. Because of this, even in the worst riots-affected areas of Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, and Meerut, BJP got to home as it won many out of two dozen seats. For example, in Sardhana (Meerut), the riot-accused Hindutva poster boy, Sangeet Som, won the contest because of the division of Muslim vote between SP’s Atul Pradhan and BSP’s Imran Qureshi. In Meerapur constituency of Muzaffarnagar, BJP's Avtar Singh Bhadana secured 69,035 votes, the SP’s Liyakat Ali secured 68,842, while the BSP's Nawazish Alam Khan got 39, 689 votes.
The same ugly spectacle of Muslim votes can be seen in most assembly constituencies where they were in decisive position. Another glaring example is Kanth seat in Moradabad rural area which had elected Aneesur Rehman in 2012, the votes were divided between several Muslim candidates of the SP, BSP, AIMIM and the Peace Party that led to the victory of BJP candidate. Aneesur Rehman lost by a whisker as he got 73,959 votes while the winning BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Singh got 76,307. The difference of vote was just 2,348. While rest of the candidates including BSP’s Mohammad Nasir got 43,820, AIMIM’s Fiazuallah Chaudhary 22,908 and the Peace Party got 13,931 votes.
In Bareilly, the seat of Bareilvi sect in the sub-continent founded by Maulana Raza Ahmad Khan in early 20th century, there was Pathan vs Ansari or Ansari vs. Qureshi in most of the seats. Eventually, all the Muslim candidates here had to bite the dust.
When I asked the great-grand son of Raza Khan, Maulana Abdul Manan Khan, alias Manani Miyan, why there is bad blood among Muslims here, he had no satisfactory explanation for this.
It is said 140 seats are key to winning UP where Muslim votes count 20 percent or above. If Muslims would have shown political prudence and maturity, the BJP would have been stopped in its track despite the communal blitzkrieg. However, it belied the expectation as results show that out of these 140 assembly seats, BJP won 109 and its ally Apna Dal 2, while SP won 23 and its ally Congress 3, and BSP got 2.
So far as Muslim leadership is concerned, most of the Muslim leaders across party-line pursue their politics more on emotional utterances or outbursts rather than raising fundamental issues concerning the community. For example, in flagrant violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, Muslim children have been denied primary education in their mother tongue since independence by successive governments, as there is not a single Urdu medium school in the state. But no Muslim politician has raised this important issue.