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Fight for the ‘19%’ – UP assembly elections becomes a battleground of opposition parties for Muslim votes

As the most populous state in India gears up to vote early next year, the political landscape in Uttar Pradesh is just heating up.

According to the 2011 census, the state of Uttar Pradesh had a total population of almost 20 crores, out of which around 3.8 crores belong to the Muslim community making it approx 19%. In 2011, around 64% of the total population comprised of eligible voters. According to the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) 2020 population projection, Uttar Pradesh now has a population of approx 23 crores. Assuming the number of eligible voters is the same at 64%, it comes out to be approx 14 crores. The total assumed population of Muslims stands at approx 4.3 crores at the present time. If 64% of Muslims are eligible voters, i.e. at par with the state percentage, that comes out to be 2.7 crores.

The fight for Muslim votes among opposition parties

Traditionally, it is believed that Muslims voters do not vote for Bharatiya Janata Party in UP. It is evident from the fact that in the India Today-Axis survey, 76% of Muslim voters in UP preferred the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) alliance during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The preferred party for Muslims is not BJP despite the fact that the party works on the theory of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”.

Notably, the BJP government led by CM Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh does not discriminate among people of the state based on religion. In March 2021, CM Yogi had said that there is no discrimination in UP based on religion as 30 per cent of the welfare scheme beneficiaries are Muslims in the state. From housing schemes, free power connections, free cooking gas to the Ayushman Bharat healthcare plan, Muslims have a higher share in the list of beneficiaries, reports suggest.

As the opposition parties are aware that Muslims hesitate to vote for BJP, they often see them as the game changers in the state. Though the population share stands at only 19%, they can make a difference, especially on the seats where the Muslim population is more compared to other religions. SP, BSP, Congress, and other local parties have been trying to woo the Muslim voters for the upcoming elections, but their plans may not be fruitful as they expected due to the entry of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the state.

AIMIM is trying to become a national party

Recently, AIMIM chief Asaddudin Owaisi has announced that his party would contest 100 seats in the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. In the last couple of years, AIMIM has been trying to showcase its power across India by contesting elections in different states. The aim appears to project itself as a national party rather than a state party. In the Bihar elections, Owaisi won four seats, and it gave him a boost to try hand in other states as well. The plan did not work in West Bengal, but in Uttar Pradesh, AIMIM thinks that they have a chance to win seats, especially with a sizeable Muslim population.

AIMIM has also urged all parties to reserve the Deputy Chief Minister post for Muslims. AIMIM leader Asim Waqar had asked SP, BSP and Congress to make their stand clear on the issue. This ‘unexpected’ gameplay by AIMIM can harm the Muslim vote share for the opposition parties in UP who rely on the Muslim voters for the upcoming elections.

In a series of Tweets, AIMIM chief had hit out on opposition parties for failing to win Zila Parishad chairman seats. Reportedly, the Bhartiya Janta Party has swept the polls winning 65 out of the total 75 seats, while Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party bagged only 6 seats.

Owaisi said despite of having 19% population share, not even a single chairman seat was won by a Muslim candidate. Without taking Akhilesh’s name, he said despite of claiming to be the largest opposition party in UP, they only won five seats.

He added, “Now we have to adopt a new political pattern. Unless we have a free political voice, our problems are not going to be resolved. Don’t be afraid of BJP, but fight in a strong way.”

BJP’s vote share in Uttar Pradesh

Interestingly, according to the Election Commission of India, BJP had a vote share of approx 40% in the 2017 UP Assembly elections. The party believes that it will have a rather bigger win compared to the 2017 elections in the state. CM Yogi has recently reacted to AIMIM’s chief’s challenge in which he had said AIMIM would not let him become CM again.

Owaisi said, “Inshallah, (we) will not allow Yogi (Adityanath) to become the chief minister of UP again. If our morale is high and we work hard, then everything will happen. Inshallah, our endeavour is that the BJP government is not formed in Uttar Pradesh.”

On July 3, Yogi Adityanath reacted to his statement and said Owaisi is a national leader and he goes to different parts for campaigning. “If he has challenged the BJP, then the BJP worker accepts his challenge,” CM Yogi said. He further added, “The BJP will form the government, and there should be no doubt on this.” Notably, in the Lok Sabha elections 2020, BJP alone had won 62 seats out of 80 in the state.

The attack in on SP more than BJP

One more exciting aspect of the upcoming elections in terms of Muslim voters is that both BSP and AIMIM are not targeting BJP. Their main target is Akhilesh Yadav-led SP. Owaisi has recently called SP an “anti-Muslim” party. Mayawati, chief of BSP, who allied with SP for Lok Sabha elections in 2019, is on the mission to ‘destroy’ SP. So much so, Mayawati, at one point, had announced that her party is ready to form an alliance with BJP in UP to ensure SP does not win. However, she did a u-turn on her statement and now wants to project BSP as the ‘only’ choice for upcoming elections. As a result, she has been attacking every party in her statements.

Aam Aadmi Party’s noisy blame-game

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party is also planning to contest UP elections. As a way of degrading BJP’s image in the eyes of voters, the party is indulging in half-baked rumour-mongering.

From baseless allegations of a land scam in Ram Mandir land acquisition to the half-baked allegations of a scam in ventilator purchase, it seems that the party would continue to make baseless allegations just to keep BJP leaders busy countering them. Recently, AAP MP Sanjay Singh also met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav that raised a few eyebrows.

The upcoming UP Assembly elections

Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are still approx nine months away. It is too early to speculate what would be the result of the elections but owning to the current scenario, it seems the elections would not be easy for any party. The recent win for BJP in the Zila Parishad elections gave some positive hope to the BJP leader. However, the fake news and rumours need to curbed at their initial stage if BJP wants to increase its vote share in the state.

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Anurag
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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