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Karnataka BJP is opting for social engineering ahead of the Assembly elections by trying to win the confidence of Muslims and cut the mutual indifference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call to BJP workers in Hyderabad and New Delhi, in July 2022 and January 2023 respectively, to reach out to Pasmanda Muslims and involve them in the electoral process, irrespective of whether they vote for the party or not, is seeing results in Karnataka, which goes to polls in April 2023. Though Pasmanda Muslims in Karnataka are a small community identified under the general tag of ‘Muslims’, some BJP leaders have commenced the outreach.
Muslims in India are broadly categorised into three social groups—Syed-Ashrafs (religious leaders and aristocracy), Ajlaf (backward Muslims), and Arzal (Dalit Muslims). Ajlaf and Arzal are collectively known as Pasmanda Muslims. A Persian word that means ‘those left behind’ or the oppressed, the term is used for socially and economically deprived classes among Muslims. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for a significant population of Pasmanda Muslims, with 3.5 crore and 1.5 crore respectively.
In Karnataka, the Nadafs and/or Pinjaras found in north Karnataka, whose profession is making cotton mattresses, can be loosely tagged as Pasmandas. The Muslim population in the state, who make up 12% of the population, received 4% of the total 50% reservation (before it was extended to 56% to include the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities). The Nadafs and/or Pinjaras are, however, placed in a category with 95 other castes sharing 4% reservation.
As part of the party’s efforts to reach out to Karnataka’s Muslims ahead of the elections,, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Lahar Singh Siroya met Karnataka's Ameer-e-Shariat Maulana Sageer Ahmad Khan Rashadi in January and organised a harmony lunch that was attended by prominent Muslims. “The Ameer-e-Shariat wanted hate amongst communities to be diluted as there is no mutual trust in each other,'' Lahar Singh Siroya said. Both in January and earlier in November 2022, Lahar Singh Siroya held health camps in Shivajinagar and Chamarajapet Assembly constituencies where Muslim voters are in good numbers. He had also adopted 500 tuberculosis patients under the Pradhan Mantri TB Mukt Bharat in Shivajinagar and donated equipment worth Rs 50 lakh to the Babu Jagjivan Ram BBMP Referral Hospital in Chamarajapet. “The Congress MLAs of the two constituencies Rizwan Arshad and BZ Zameer Ahmed Khan extended all the support I needed to conduct the programmes,'' Lahar Singh Siroya added.
In yet another outreach effort, Uday B Garudachar, BJP MLA from Chickpet, another constituency with a large minority population, visited the Hazrat Sayed Safdar Ali Shah Qadri dargah in Chamarajpet and placed a chaddar. Dismissing that this was to appease the minorities, Garudachar said: “During the pandemic, I distributed food kits to all irrespective of their caste or religion. I belong to all communities. I am now planning to visit Kwaja Garib Nawaz dargah in Ajmer, the bulava (call) has to come,'' he added. Placing chaddars at dargahs is a common practice followed by candidates across party lines.
The BJP ticket aspirant in Kalaburagi North, Chandrakant B Patil (Chandu Patil) has been advertising the work he had done during the pandemic. Kalaburagi North is a Muslim-dominated constituency currently represented by Congress MLA Kaneez Fatima.
Modi’s “vote-grabbing” tactic
Former Rajya Sabha deputy chairman and Congress politician K Rahman Khan, who had instituted a survey of the socio-economic status of minorities in the state when he headed the Karnataka State Minorities Commission, slammed Modi's call for reaching out to Pasmanda and Bohra Muslims (a sub-caste of the Shia sect hailing from Gujarat and Maharashtra, with a total population of 10 lakh to 12 lakh). According to him, there is no internal hierarchy within Muslims in Karnataka. “Modi is trying to drive a wedge within the Muslim community. Majority of Muslims are economically and socially backward and there are no Pasmanda Muslims in Karnataka. The fear of persecution is common to all Muslims,'' he maintained. He further said that the Bohras cannot be dubbed as oppressed as they are a business community. “One should not be swayed by Modi's divisive politics,” Khan stated. Modi had cultivated close ties with the Bohras, especially after the Gujarat riots of 2002. Their support for the BJP is said to have been boosted by the ease of doing business measures implemented by Modi while he was chief minister of the state.
Khan's view is endorsed by media analyst NK Mohan Ram, who called Modi's statement as a vote-grabbing tactic. “This is a wake up call to the Muslim community to be vigilant of fascists forces' attempts to split the community,'' he added. Author of the Kannada book Alienation of Muslims in the 21st Century, Mohan Ram said there has been a lapse by the forward Muslims, who have not taken along the oppressed lot in the community.
Bengaluru Jamia Masjid's Maulana Maqsood Imran Rashadi pointed out that while Modi's intention of inclusive politics is appreciated, it is not percolating to the intended. According to him, the Karnataka government cancelled two centrally sponsored scholarships earmarked for minorities. Children enrolled under the Right To Education scheme in private schools have been asked to leave and join government institutions as the government has stopped reimbursement of the fee. “They promised but let us down,'' he added.
Will Modi's tactic work electorally?
According to a senior BJP functionary, the biggest hurdle for the party has been to influence the mindset of the Muslims who have refused to accept the party. “Muslims from other parties join the BJP, get some positions, but don't stay for long. The community suffers from the `all or none' phenomenon. There should be some common point with which they can align with us. It has been a challenge to identify that point,'' he maintained.
Like Gujarat, the BJP has never considered giving tickets to the Muslims in the Assembly polls. Its outreach to the community has been limited to nominating late Mumtaz Ali Khan and former police officer Abdul Azeem to the Legislative Council. The latter now heads the State Minorities Commission. “There are Muslims in each of the 224 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka with votes ranging from 10,000 to 50,000. They will not vote even if the BJP fields a Muslim candidate,'' a BJP functionary said.
BJP sources said that Muslim candidates have evinced interest in the upcoming polls. In the background of Modi's statement to involve the community in the electoral process, these aspirants are hopeful of getting a ticket. Besides, at the BJP's special executive meeting held on February 4, sources said the party leadership has issued strict directions to organise meetings and rallies for minorities to highlight achievements of the Union and state governments.
Socio-economic realities of Muslims in Karnataka
The Nadafs and/or Pinjaras of the state, however, have not received answers for their petitions to the government. The communities were traditionally occupied in cotton mattress making. However, their product is no longer in demand after people began preferring branded and machine-made mattresses, said Karnataka State Nadaf, Pinjara Sangha President H Jaleelsab , “Earlier, we would visit houses to make cotton mattresses, but nobody wants them now. The profession is slowly dying with the younger generation in the community starting cycle repair shops, becoming mechanics, or agricultural labourers. As the Sangha's president, it's been difficult to even organise a day's protest as none of them want to lose a day's wages. We have been submitting petitions to governments. Two years ago, we approached the BJP government and even contacted the RSS leaders. Nothing has happened so far,'' he added.
Jaleelsab said the Nadafs make up 25 lakh to 30 lakh people spread out in Shiggaon, Haveri, Gadag, Bidar,Belagavi, and Kalaburagi districts. They have, as mentioned earlier, been placed under category one of Karnataka's reservation policy and share 4% reservation with 95 other castes. “There is no representation of our community either in the legislature or in the bureaucracy. The last representatives from our community were Mohammed Kasimsab M Nadaf, who represented Shiggaon constituency in 1978 and 1983, and NN Mardansab in 1972 on Congress tickets,'' he added.
Imamsab M Nadaf, who was deputy mayor of Hubballi-Dharwad City Corporation from 1995-1996 representing the undivided Janata Dal, said that while the Congress has not given tickets to his community after 1983, he has not contested on a ticket from Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)), of which he is a member now, as it has no vote bank in the district.
Representation of Muslims in the Assembly
Over the years, the representation of Muslim law makers in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly from either the Congress or the JD(S) has been dwindling. From 17 Muslim MLAs in 1978, to two in 1983, the current Assembly has seven. All of them are from the Congress.
In the upcoming polls, the Congress has received 109 applications from Muslim aspirants in Vijayapura City, currently represented by BJP's Basanagouda Patil Yatnal. The seat has the highest number (26) of Muslim ticket aspirants, followed by Haveri and Hubballi-Dharwad getting eight applications each, while Bengaluru district received seven, and Bidar six. While the minority community is said to be electorally strong in 20 odd constituencies, while in the rest, Muslim votes are a decisive factor for any candidate's victory.
Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee General Secretary Mehroz Khan, who is working with the Forum for Minorities Rights, Democratic and Political Empowerment, said the focus is now on creating voting awareness in the community. He cited the example of some polling booths in Aland constituency in Kalaburagi district where the Congress candidate lost by 697 votes in the 2018 elections. In 10 Muslim-dominated booths having 3,845 votes, no Muslim had cast their votes. “The forum is creating awareness for the Muslims. All we want is for more number of Muslims and secular minded candidates to win,'' he added.
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