India

Running a dirty poll campaign: Vilifying Muslim politicians and demeaning Muslim terms

As the campaign for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections heats up, major politicians are boldly using “Muslim” terms to gain entry into the state. Major BJP leaders are attempting to project themselves as “nationalist Hindu” leaders. 

On December 30, 2021, while addressing a public rally in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad, Union Home Minister Amit Shah stepped up his attack against Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav with ‘NIZAM’ salvo. 

Shah stated that Akhilesh Yadav has created ‘NIZAM’ rule in Uttar Pradesh.

“‘NIZAM’ means governance, but for Akhilesh Yadav, it means N for ‘Nasimuddin’, I for ‘Imran Masood’, Z A for ‘Azam Khan’, and M for ‘Mukhtar Ansari’. I want to ask you whether you want  Akhilesh’s Nizam or Yogi-Modi’s development Nizam?” 

He further stated, “Modiji and Yogiji have done the work of establishing the rule of law by freeing Uttar Pradesh from this NIZAM raj. 700 riots happened in Akhilesh Yadav’s government, but today in Yogi’s government, rioters cannot dare to raise their eyes. “

However, the data shows an increase in the number of cases of rioting from 5,714 in 2019 to 6,126 in 2020.

Nasimuddin Siddiqui is a Congress leader; previously, he was a prominent Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) leader and was expelled by the BSP chief Mayawati in 2017. Imran Masood is a Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh’s western region. Mukhtar Ansari represents the BSP in the Mau constituency. Ansari is currently imprisoned in Uttar Pradesh on charges of extortion and criminal intimidation. Azam Khan, a Samajwadi Lok Sabha MP, is currently imprisoned in Sitapur for alleged forgery and cheating.

Demonising and humiliating Muslim leaders is an attempt by BJP politicians to polarise elections along religious lines. Shah’s ‘NIZAM’ attack on the SP chief is a clear signal to the Hindu population that if they vote for the SP, their ‘culture’ will be jeopardised.

According to Aditya Menon, Political Editor at The Quint, “BJP is demeaning Muslim political leaders because they want to instil fear among Hindu voters that if the BJP loses, ‘Muslim’ domination will return, which would be an attack on ‘Hindu’ culture.”

Menon adds that leaders like “Azam Khan and Mukhtar Ansari, and Ateeq Ahmed cannot be spoken of in the same breath. Azam Khan is a mainstream politician, and he shouldn’t be equated with people who have a criminal background. Between Mukhtar Ansari and Ateeq Ahmed, Mukhtar Ansari has a slightly ‘Robinhood’ image, which is not the same as Ateeq Ahmed.”

Shah also linked Samajwadi Party to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Shah said that “as elections come closer, Akhilesh Yadav finds Jinnah a great person,” while he invoked Lord Hanuman to praise Yogi Adityanath  that “no “bahubalis” (musclemen) are visible under the current regime, but just “Bajrang Bali”.

The anti-Aurangzeb sentiment among Hindus is largely the result of politics, and this idea to settle old scores is a dreadful achievement for them.

Since the beginning of the UP election campaign, BJP leaders have raked up controversies involving cow slaughter, ‘love jihad,’ anti-conversion, false propaganda about a ‘growing Muslim population,’ and ‘Muslim’ culture. 

On December 1, 2021, Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya sparked a political storm by calling for preparations to build a grand temple in Mathura, while temple construction in Ayodhya and Kashi is already underway.

Mathura is considered to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna, the temple site, which is the subject of several lawsuits, is housed inside a Mughal-era mosque in Mathura and shares its grounds compound with a well-known temple. The BJP is provoking such divisive comments ahead of the UP elections in order to strengthen its Hindu base in the state. 

Earlier in December, during a public meeting in Prayagraj, Maurya said, “People wearing lungis and skull caps grabbed your land and threatened you during the previous regime, you should remember all of this,” clearly referring to Muslims.

During a rally in Kannauj, another BJP MP, Subrat Pathak, stated that the BJP will not get Muslim votes because it repealed Article 370 and built temples in Ayodhya and Kashi, and will soon build in Mathura.

The BJP leaders’ speeches mostly consist of attacks on dead Mughal rulers and anti-Muslim jibes – “Abba jaan” and “kabristan” are the only election strategy of the BJP.

“The BJP’s religious (communal) appeals are a strategy to divert attention away from issues such as a broken healthcare system, unemployment, and a law and order situation,” Menon says.

Despite the fact that the saffron party has faced difficulties in the last two years, Menon believes that any of the parties will find it difficult to reduce the BJP’s vote share.

During a public rally in Amethi on January 3rd, Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath launched a scathing attack on Congress leaders, calling them ‘accidental Hindus.’ Playing along the lines of the ‘Hindu-Muslim’ binary, the UP Chief Minister said, “During elections in Gujarat, the former MP of Amethi (Rahul Gandhi) went to a temple and sat there in a position as if offering namaz. The priests reprimanded him and instructed him on how to sit in a temple.”

The BJP is constantly seeking validation by invoking communalism; it has little to offer in terms of development and job creation.

Menon goes on to say that one of the reasons the BJP is invoking communalism is that “stronger voters in the state believe that job creation was much lower under Yogi regime than under SP regime.” 

While announcing its election manifesto in 2017, the BJP promised to create over 70 lakh jobs, but unemployment has only increased since then. According to (CMIE) Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd., an independent think tank that publishes monthly employment data bulletins in India, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, the unemployment rate in India’s most populous state increased by 21.5 percent.

The Quint in one of its reports stated “Keeping the pandemic time data aside, India’s unemployment rose to a 45-year high of 6.1 percent in 2017-18, according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). UP was one of the states that was surveyed by the NSSO and its unemployment rate was almost at par with the national average at 6.2 %.” 

Former I-PAC member Waqar Khalid Usmani claims that communalism politics was always present in the state, but when the BJP came to power in 2014, the entire society changed. “Casually hurling anti-Muslim slurs is not a new phenomenon; this entire Hindutva ecosystem has grown over the last twenty years.” 

Yogi Adityanath founded the Hindu Yuva Vahini in the early 2000s, – the Hindutva organisation was a staunch force in establishing Adityanath, it worked for over twenty years to build a strong Hindutva force in Uttar Pradesh. 

“The vigilante organisation first made its mark in eastern Uttar Pradesh, targeting marginalised Muslim communities and thus gaining prominence,” Usmani explains.

According to Usmani, the mafia kingdom was more prevalent during the SP regime, and communal assertion was limited.

Parth S. Ghosh in his article ‘The Growing Phenomenon of Demonising Muslims’ states: “The Islamophobia of South Asia is historically different from Europe, but varies little in terms of content. In India, it has much to do with Hindu nationalism, which has at least a hundred years of history. But only in its present form has it become virulent. Today, the mere suspicion that someone is carrying or eating beef can lead to their being lynched by a mob, which then has the audacity to video record the event and circulate it on social media with aplomb.  Just for the heck of it, Muslims are being forced to chant Jai Shri Ram. If they refuse, which they have every right to, they are heckled and beaten, sometimes to death.”

In the meantime, the opposition parties have been unable to fight the BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ policies. They’ve either turned to ‘Soft Hindutva,’ which is a more balanced act that will benefit them in the long term while being diplomatic, or they’re preoccupied with distancing ‘Hindutva’ from ‘Hinduism,’ rather than vehemently condemning Islamophobia.

According to Tanweer Fazal, a sociology professor at the University of Hyderabad, the opposition is employing a similar electoral strategy. They do not want to be perceived as anything less than ‘Hindus,’ as this would benefit them in the long run. 

He says that the opposition does not want to counter the BJP’s polarisation pitch because they believe it will cost them Hindu votes if they speak of anti-Muslim hatred. 

“Akhilesh Yadav is speaking on issues such as price rises, unemployment, poverty, and reservation because he is aware that the Hindu vote bank is very important, and the Muslim vote bank has nowhere else to go,” Fazal adds.

Fazal states that the BJP is well aware that it has consolidated Hindu votes, particularly in North India, since 2014, rendering minority votes irrelevant. Even if they do not receive Muslim votes, they have a sizable Hindu vote.

Now, with the Ram Mandir construction underway, the saffron party’s calculated strategy of excluding minority voters, and the BJP capitalising on the Hindutva factor, the nationalist Hindu Party maintains a strong foothold in Uttar Pradesh. 

Arshi Qureshi is a journalist based in Delhi.

Arshi Qureshi

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