Home Muslim culture BJP’s Pasmanda movement pushes Muslim politics into new moment

BJP’s Pasmanda movement pushes Muslim politics into new moment


One evening in July, Sadaf Jafar tries to call his cats in the hall of his tastefully decorated house in Lucknow. Four Persian cats – Rani, Timur, Gabbu Singh and Bibbo, named after the character Jafar played in A Suitable Boy. Nonchalant, they wouldn’t come out of their cozy hiding place. The room has a large cat tree with scratching posts. But the cats don’t scratch him, they scratch Sadaf and his two teenagers. “Cat moms”, the little family calls itself.

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A teacher and single mother, Congress leader Jafar contested recent Lucknow assembly elections and was among those jailed during anti-CAA protests. Her daughter Kaunain Fatima has just graduated 12th class from La Martinière, the city’s most prestigious school, and is now aiming for Delhi University. Kaunain likes Harry Potter, but not the “transphobic” JK Rowling. The girl, who has published poems in English, is associated with an organization that fights for LGBTQ rights.

If there’s one family that effortlessly demolishes stereotypes about Muslims, it’s this one. And if there is a house that underlines the economic and cultural gap between the Ashraf and the Pasmanda, it is also this one. For some distance away live a Pasmanda couple, Waqar Hawari and his wife Kahkasha, who talk for hours about their bitter experiences with the Ashrafs and even seem to find poetic justice in Jafar’s electoral defeat.

Such divisions exist in other communities as well, but the BJP felt a space here to make inroads into the Muslim community. It has already shed the image of an upper caste party. According to a Lokniti-CSDS survey, of the total BJP votes in the 1996 LS elections, 49% came from the upper castes, 33% from the OBCs, 11% from the SCs and 7% from the STs. In 2019, 30% of the party’s votes came from upper castes, 44% from OBCs, 16% from SCs and 10% from STs.

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Having won over the OBC Hindus and thus weakened the Mandal parties, the BJP is now trying to reach out to Muslims, perhaps the only community outside the party’s electoral machine. Since educated upper-caste Muslims are the most vocal and articulate opponents of the BJP, he focused on the Pasmandas, a collective term for the OBC and Dalit Muslims. The Pasmandas are shrewdly aware of this. “The BJP has seen that aligning with the Ashraf does not help because their community has not come to them. We Pasmandas only want to talk about our representation. We don’t want to raise emotional or religious issues,” says Waqar Hawari, Chief General Secretary of All Indian Pasmanda Mahaz.

The BJP project started from Uttar Pradesh where they inducted several Pasmanda leaders into key positions including Minorities Commission Chairman Ashfaq Saifi, Madarsa Board Chairman Iftikhar Ahmed Javed and President of Urdu Chaudhary Kaiful Wara Academy. While the party did not give a single ticket to a Muslim candidate in recent assembly elections, CM Yogi Adityanath appointed Denmark’s Ansari, a Pasmanda, as minister for minority welfare. Representation of Ashrafs is almost zero in key positions in the UP government.

BJP Morcha minority leader Kunwar Basit Ali, though Ashraf, gave 70% of the positions in his organization to Pasmandas, who were also the main beneficiaries of government programs.

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“The UP has 19.33% of the Muslim population. Up to 39% of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana recipients, 22% of toilet yojna recipients, 37% of Ujjawala Yojna recipients and 30% of Mudra Yojana recipients are Muslims,” the office of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to Outlook in a statement.

“About 43 lakh houses have been built under the Awas Yojna in the state in the last 5 years. Out of these 20 lakh, only the Pasmandas are concerned,” says Basit Ali. Even BJP opponents admit it.” Muslims could make up 33% of the total housing program beneficiaries,” says Waqar Hawari. There are also government programs like One District One Product (ODOP) which have benefited more Muslims than Hindus, due to the large number of Muslim craftsmen.


Several upper caste leaders call it collyrium. “What’s the problem if you appoint a Muslim president of the Urdu academy? If you want to give us representation, make a Muslim interior minister. If the Pasmandas take this bait, nothing can help us,” says Sadaf Jafar, pointing out that the many Muslim shops that the government has forcibly closed belong to the Pasmandas.

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The BJP’s plan is obvious. “The whole Pasmanda initiative is a deliberate attempt to further fragment the already fragmented Muslim vote bank,” Congress leader Yusuf Ahmad Ansari said.

Sadaf Jafar and his daughter Kaunain in their home in Lucknow. Picture Outlook/Ashutosh Bhardwaj

The divisions emerge from the Pasmandas’ long list of allegations – the Ashrafs caused partition, the Aligarh Muslim University was designed to exclude them and favor the Ashrafs, major community organizations like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board are dominated by the Ashrafs. And then they point to two infamous incidents on December 6 – one in 1992, the other in 2007 when Syeds and Pathans assaulted low-caste Ansaris and Mansuris for the right to pray and chased them out of their mosques. in East Champaran district in Bihar. . When the Pasmandas built a thatched-roof mosque nearby, the upper-caste Muslims damaged it.

Out of a total of 1288 AMU faculties in 2016, upper caste Muslims held 1138 positions or 88.35%, with OBC Muslims reduced to just 62 positions or 4.81% – even less than the 87 non-Muslim faculties .

The BJP is trying to exploit this sentiment, and upper-caste Muslims know it. “By raking in the partition and the AMU affair, the Pasmandas offer a deadly argument to the BJP,” warns a Syed executive in Lucknow.

Although the Pasmandas are not aligned with the BJP, unlike the Ashrafs, they do not reject BJP outreach. “2024 is very important for the BJP. As a professional party, it would like to increase its electoral base,” says Khalid Anis Ansari, who teaches at Azim Premji University.

“The political sphere has a certain autonomy in relation to the cultural and economic sphere. There is a cultural project of the RSS. There is a political project of the BJP, and there is an economic project of the plutocrats like Adanis. They work together, but they also have a certain autonomy and there are course corrections as well,” he says.

While academic Ansari is on guard, some Pasmanda leaders are optimistic. Hawari, who is as opposed to the campaign of hatred against Muslims as any of his community leaders, calls Narendra Modi’s call to reach out to weaker Muslims a “good move”. “The Ashraf are worried for the first time. They face defeat. Most new positions in UP have gone to Pasmandas. The BJP’s decision can significantly improve our situation. It will scare the Ashraf and they will start working for us,” he said.

But Hawari is also aware that the BJP’s scheme “may create an additional divide in the Muslim community”. This may be the precise hope of the BJP.

The party seems to have left the Pasmandas in a dilemma. They can’t give up their opposition to the BJP, but they can’t avoid hailing the movement either.

Challenges facing the BJP

Among the Muslims appointed by the Yogi government is Tooraj Zaidi, the chairman of the Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad committee which deals with the promotion of Urdu, Arabic and Persian. The frail man quietly sips coffee in a Lucknow hotel and recalls the date he joined the BJP – November 11, 1993, “less than a year after the demolition of the Babri Mosque”. “I was then among the few Muslim members of the UP BJP. I brought 151 Shia families with me. When I joined, my effigies were burned. My relatives got angry, boycotted me he says, a satisfaction now reflected in his voice, because his choice has finally paid off.

But he is aware that his party may not easily win the trust of a community he has considered his essential partner for decades. Gau rakshaks and trolls do not differentiate between Ashrafs and Pasmandas. “During elections, we talk about 80 against 20, abbazan and mamazan. You insult them for wearing the hijab in Karnataka. Treat us with some dignity first,” says Sadaf Jafar.

“A party that prides itself on not having a single Muslim representative suddenly makes an effort to raise awareness. I don’t see anyone in the Muslim community being fooled by this,” says Congress’ Yusuf Ansari.

Basit Ali understands the crisis. He admits that despite a large number of Muslim beneficiaries of various programs, almost all of them poor, “only one lakh Pasmandas voted for the BJP in the recent elections.”

He wants his party to “also work on the dominant and powerful in Ashraf”. “The party should take them. They will bring several other biradaris with them,” he said.

Some BJP Muslim leaders also list a few communities that can be easily ‘conquered’, including ‘converted Muslims’ like Muslim Rajputs, Muslim Jat and Muslim Gurjars, who are even closer to Hindus in their practices and culture. . They are politically powerful and have influence over several weaker Muslim Biradaris.

A sustained anti-Muslim campaign helped the BJP consolidate its voters. He needs to drastically alter his stance to get a serious stab in the Pasmanda vote. Referring to BJP’s Sneh Yatra, All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz Chairman Ali Anwar stresses that Muslims want “samman (respect)” not “sneh (affection)”, and calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rein in leaders of his party who make objectionable remarks. against Muslims.

Moreover, it is not about certain beneficiaries of housing programs or positions in minority institutions, but about participation in governance and politics. Although there is no reservation for Dalit Muslims, a tiny percentage of Muslims have been able to take advantage of the OBC reservation. A few years ago, Dalit Muslim Ejaz Ali said, “Babri masjid le lo, article 341 de do”, referring to article 341 under which a community or caste can be classified as SC.

It will be a tall order for the BJP to secure the SC reserves for the Muslims, but if the political need to bring the Pasmandas back into its fold forces the BJP to reconsider its position, it could weaken the influential Ashraf and could mark a new moment. for Muslim politics.