Given the high number of Muslim candidates fielded by Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav for the first two phases of the Uttar Pradesh election, it would at first glance appear that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) could trip each other up in a replay of the 2017 Assembly election. Five years ago, the BSP fielded an unprecedented number of Muslim candidates, which, political observers say, split the Muslim vote, and together with Hindu consolidation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name, gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) an edge in constituencies where there is a concentration of Muslims.
Despite the high number of Muslim candidates, the narrative of a split in the Muslim votes flies in the face of, as anthropologist Nadeem Hasnain puts it, “the unprecedented persecution of Muslims” in the state and a “fight for survival and physical safety.” While “deeply disillusioned” with the SP, Hasnain, a professor of anthropology at Lucknow University, said that Muslims would vote for the SP as a “survival strategy.” “Muslims feel like they are under siege,” he said. “They will vote for the SP.”
Furthermore, when we looked at constituencies in districts where Muslims are over 25% of the population as per the 2011 Census of India, where SP and BSP fielded Muslim candidates and the BJP candidates won with slender to comfortable victory margins in 2017, and compared them to the candidate selection for 2020, we found changes that could alter the outcome in those seats.
For instance, in 2017, out of the six (of eight) constituencies that the BJP won in Bijnor district, where 41.71% of the population is Muslim, there were three seats where two Muslim candidates were pitted against each other, finishing second and third. The BSP and the Congress Party fielded Muslim candidates in Barhapur, and SP and BSP in Chandpur and Noorpur, where the BJP won by victory margins of 4.40%, 16.40%, and 6.30% respectively. (SP and Congress had formed an alliance in 2017. This time, Congress is expected to eat into SP’s Muslim voter base).
For the 2022 election, BSP has once again fielded Muslim candidates in Barhapur, Chandpur, and Noorpur, but the SP has not. The Congress is yet to declare its candidates for these three seats.
On the possibility of Congress eating into SP’s votes, Hasnain was of the opinion that if the Priyanka Gandhi-led party was not so poorly placed in UP or showed any signs of revival at the national stage, Muslims would prefer it to the SP. In addition to feeling like they have been taken for granted, he noted that unlike the BSP, where Mayawati had managed to transfer Dalit votes to candidates of other communities, the same was not true for the Yadav vote — an OBC (Other Backward Class) community and the core vote bank of the SP. “Akhilesh Yadav has not managed to do that,” he said.
This time, however, the anthropologist said that community leaders were working to ensure that the Muslim vote did not split between the SP, BSP, Congress, Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), and other local players. “And not just in areas where Muslims have a high concentration,” he said.
What happened in 2017
The 2017 election suggested that contrary to the popular narrative, Muslims do not vote as a monolith — an argument often used by the BJP to encourage Hindus to vote as one. While they may vote to defeat the BJP, they may not vote for one party or at least they did not five years ago even though lynchings of Muslims were becoming commonplace and a virulent brand of Hindu majoritarianism, which has since solidified, was picking up pace.
The BJP would have you believe that even though they had not fielded any Muslim candidate in UP in either the 2014 or 2019 Lok Sabha elections or the 2017 Assembly election, Muslims, especially Muslim women, voted for them in the three polls.
According to the Election Commission of India (ECI) data, BJP’s vote share was 22.6% in Muslim concentration areas in the 2012 state election, 43% in 2014 when the nation was in the throes of the Modi wave, and 38.8% in the Assembly election in 2017. The LokNiti-CSDS post-poll survey for the 2019 Lok Sabha election shows that 14% Muslims voted for Congress, 8% for the BJP, and 73% for the alliance between the SP and BSP.
ECI data of the 2017 UP election shows that the BJP made significant gains in Muslim concentration constituencies.
Take, for instance, Moradabad district, where 45.4% of the population is Muslim, and where seven of the nine constituencies went to the SP in the 2012 Assembly election, one (Thakurdwara) went to the BJP, and one (Kanth) went to the Peace Party of India (PCEP), a regional party led by Mohammed Ayub. In 2017, BJP wrested Moradabad Nagar from SP, and Kanth from PCEP, with victory margins of 0.90% to 1.20%, as well as the reserved seat of Chandausi with a margin of 20.50% from the SP, but lost its bastion of Thakurdwara to SP.
In Kanth, BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Singh secured 30.29% of the votes. SP and BSP fielded Muslim candidates, with SP’s Aneesurehman securing 29.36% of the votes and BSP’s Mohd Nasir securing 17.40%.
In Moradabad Nagar, BJP’s Ritesh Kumar Gupta secured 44.74% of the votes. SP and BSP fielded Muslim candidates, with SP’s Mohammad Yusuf Ansari securing 43.59% of the votes and BSP’s Ateeq Ahmed Saifi securing 8.93%.
For the 2022 election, both SP and BSP have fielded Muslim candidates for Kanth and Moradabad Nagar. Congress has fielded Mohammed Rizwan Qureshi from Moradabad Nagar.
It also looks as if history could repeat itself in Meerut South, one of the six (of seven) constituencies that BJP won in 2017 in Meerut district, where 32.81% of the population is Muslim. In Meerut South, where BSP and Congress fielded Muslim candidates (SP and Congress were in an alliance, BJP’s Somendra Tomar secured 42.03% of the votes, while BSP’s Haji Mohammad Yakub and the Congress Party’s Mohammad Azad Saifi secured 28.89% and 25.56% of the votes respectively. Incidentally, it was a similar result in Meerut South in 2012, with SP and BSP fielding Muslim candidates.
In 2022, SP, BSP, and the Congress are all fielding Muslim candidates in Meerut South: Mohammed Adil, Dilshad Ali, and Nafees Saifi, respectively.
The BJP could also get an edge in the Meerut constituency, where SP’s Rafiq Ansari defeated BJP veteran Laxmikant Bajpai in 2017 and BSP fielded Pankaj Jauli. This year, SP and BSP are fielding Muslim candidates. While SP is going with Rafiq Ansari again, BSP is fielding Mohammad Dilshad. The BJP has replaced Bajpai with Kamal Dutt Sharma.
In Hasnain’s opinion, the BSP’s electoral strategy benefits the BJP.
What is happening in 2022
In the first phase of the 2022 election, covering the districts of Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Gautambudh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura, and Agra, Mayawati has fielded 58 candidates including 17 Muslims (29%).In the second phase of the election covering the districts of Saharanpur, Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal, Rampur, Amroha, Badaun, Bareilly, and Shahjahanpur, Mayawati is fielding 51 candidates including 23 Muslims (45%).
For the first phase in western UP, which SP is contesting in alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the SP has fielded 10 of 29 candidates, including six Muslims (20%). RLD has also fielded three Muslim candidates in the first phase. For the second phase, SP is fielding 51 candidates including 18 Muslims (35%).
In addition to the two dozen Muslim candidates of the Congress Party for western UP, Owaisi’s AIMIM has so far fielded 27 candidates including 22 Muslims and four Hindus.
To dig deeper into whether it would be an advantage BJP in Muslim concentration areas, we looked at some of the Assembly constituencies where SP and BSP fielded Muslim candidates and the BJP won in 2017, and what the candidate lineup looks like in those seats in 2022.
In Saharanpur, where 39.11% of the population is Muslim, out of the four (of seven) seats won by the BJP in 2017, there was only one seat — Deoband — where SP and BSP fielded Muslim candidates and the ruling party’s Brijesh won by a margin of 12.60%. In 2022, SP is fielding Kartikeya Rana from Deoband and the BSP candidate is Chaudhary Rajendra Singh.
In Muzaffarnagar, where 38.09% of the population is Muslim, out of the eight (of nine) seats won by the BJP in Muzaffarnagar in 2017, SP and BSP fielded Muslim candidates in one constituency — Meerapur. BJP’s Avtar Singh Badhana won with a margin of 0.10%. In 2022, BSP is fielding Mohammed Shalim and SP’s alliance partner, the RLD, is fielding SP leader Chandan Chauhan. The Congress is fielding Maulana Jameel Qasmi.
In Bareilly, where 33.89% of the population is Muslim, out of all nine seats that BJP won in 2017, SP and BSP fielded Muslim candidates in two constituencies — Bhojipura and Baheri. BJP candidates Bahoran Lal Maurya and Chhatra Pal Singh won by a margin of 11.70% and 17.40% respectively. In 2022, in Bhojipura, SP has fielded Shahjeel Islam Ansari and BSP’s candidate is Yogesh Patel. From Baheri, SP has fielded Ata ur Rehman (who won in 2012) and BSP’s candidate is Asaram Gangwar.
If this pattern continues in the current climate of religious polarisation, the narrative of the BJP gaining because of a split in Muslim votes could be tested.