What is BJP's game-plan in reaching out to backward Muslims?
On 9 May, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sabir Ali organised the Bhartiya Muslim Pichhda Varg Mahasammelan, a meeting of 'backward' Pasmanda Muslims, at Delhi's Talkatora Stadium.
Ali was probably taking a cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call to “reach out to marginalised Muslims” at BJP’s national executive in Bhubaneswar last month. But interestingly, the chief guest at the conference was senior BJP leader and Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who was first to oppose Ali’s entry into the party.
Ali, earlier with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), was inducted into the BJP in March 2014, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Naqvi called it a "mistake" and demanded the revocation of his membership. "Terrorist Bhatkal friend joins BJP...soon accepting Dawood…" he tweeted the day Ali was inducted.
His opposition forced the party to cancel Ali’s membership, in turn Ali had filed a defamation case against Naqvi because he called him “terrorists’ friend”. Ali was later inducted into the party just before the Bihar Assembly polls in 2015.
During the 9 May event, BJP leaders asked Pasmanda Muslims to embrace Modi’s policies. According to a PTI report, Naqvi made a “distinction between backward and other Muslims” and claimed that “poor Muslims have been unable to take advantage of welfare schemes for minorities”. He promised that Modi’s “pro-poor” policies will uplift them. Ali made similar claims.
But the leaders of backward and Pasmanda Muslim movement are not impressed by the BJP leaders' claims and see it as a political gimmick.
“This is nothing but a desperate attempt to get Pasmanda Muslims votes,” says Ali Anwar Ansari, JD-U Rajya Sabha MP and founder national president of All-India Pasmada Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM).
“If PM and his party are really interested in empowerment of backward Muslims, they should immediately give Scheduled Caste (SC) status to Dalit Muslims as originally given in the Constitution of India,” Ansari told Catch.
Ejaz Ali, another leader of backward Muslims and a former Parliamentarian, agrees: “Backward Muslims need no further benefit as they are already getting reservation under Other Backward Classes (OBC) category."
Ejaz Ali, national convenor of the All-India Backward Muslim Morcha (AIBMM) was expelled by JD (U) for his stand on the issue.
"The real issue is of Dalit Muslims, not Pasmandas and Backward Muslims. The Presidential order of 1950 regarding SC status to Dalit Muslims should be amended immediately. Is the PM and his party ready for that?” he asks.
On being asked to clarify the stand on the issue, Sabir Ali told Catch: “I am not going to open that chapter right now. I have just made my beginning.”
When pressed further he said, “The order was not passed during BJP’s rule but in the regime of secular forces. Hence, they should answer this question.”
Countering this, Ansari says, “It is true that the order was not passed under BJP-rule but who is stopping them to strike it down?” Ansari is of the view that the BJP will never do that as this is against its ideology and it has always opposed the demand. “The BJP is an anti-Dalit party,” he adds.
In 1950, the President of India, exercising the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 341 of the Constitution of India, issued an order saying that “any non-Hindu could not be regarded as a Scheduled Caste.”
The order was amended in 1956 to include Sikhs and in 1990, Buddhists among the Scheduled Castes were included. As a result, Muslim and Christian Dalits can’t be regarded as members of Scheduled Castes.
“This is a communal order and contradictory to the fundamental rights of the constitution,” Ejaz Ali says.
Ansari raised another point questioning the the real motive behind organising a backward Muslims' conference. Referring to the ever-increasing attacks on Muslim cattle traders, meat sellers and others from the backward sections of the Muslim community he says, “Why is PM Modi is silent on that?”
“After all they belong to the backward sections of the community. Why this doublespeak. Mere statements of empowering backward Muslims is not going to help the marginalised,” he adds.
While Sabir Ali is not ready to say much on the various issues that confront backward Muslims, he is already in the process of holding a series of meetings in different parts of Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Delhi and Haryana in order to woo backward Muslims.
According to him: “Unlike other leaders of backward Muslims I am not doing this for personal and political gain. The Prime Minister is with me."
When asked whether he was given instructions to mobilise backward Muslims, Sabir Ali remained silent.