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Victims of Caste or Communalism? Pasmanda Muslims React To PM Modi's Outreach

PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

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Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

Video Editors: Prashant Chauhan and Kriti Saxena

In June 2023, PM Narendra Modi addressed a huge crowd of BJP workers in Bhopal, where among other things, he spoke about Pasmanda Muslims’. “Members of their own community have oppressed them, but this has never been discussed in the country. The Pasmanda Muslims still aren’t treated equally,” PM Modi claimed in his speech.

A month before this speech, BJP had swept the urban polls in Uttar Pradesh. While the BJP doesn’t have a single Muslim MP, the party gave 395 tickets to Muslim candidates in these urban polls, a majority of whom were Pasmanda Muslims. 61 such candidates won, including Farkhanda Jabin of Moradabad. Her son, Abd Arshman, is functioning as the de facto chairperson.   

PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

Abd Arshman (centre) with the other BJP workers.

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

“BJP is gradually bringing Muslim candidates. The local body polls were their first trial because the local body polls are the most foundational elections...BJP has really leapt forward. If we want to move towards development, we have to work with them. They are especially helping Pasmanda Muslims, and our family also comes from the Pasmanda community,” says Arshman.  
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Arshman, 33, believes that it’s important to speak about the Pasmanda Muslim community as a separate base, with specific needs. “Syeds and Pathans have large lands. Thank God we also have those, but the rest of the Pasmanda Muslims...70 per cent of them are in a very poor state,” he says. However, Arshman admits that he hadn’t heard of the term ‘Pasmanda’ until fairly recently, when PM Modi began mentioning it frequently in his outreach speeches. “I didn’t know of the term ‘Pasmanda’ earlier, I know now.” 

‘Pasmanda’, which literally means 'those left behind', are Muslims from the Other Backward Class (OBC) category such as Ansaris and Qureshis, among many others.

A Brass Artisan Awarded The Padma Shri

In 2022, brass artist Dilshad Hussain met PM Modi at the Indira Gandhi Pratishthan in Lucknow, where he had put up a stall. “He (PM Modi) came to my stall and appreciated my products. I gifted him a Swachh Bharat plate as well,” recalls Hussain.  

PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

Dilshad Hussain has a framed photo of his meeting with PM Modi, on his wall. 

Hussain framed a photograph of him meeting PM Modi, and went back to his small home-cum-workshop in Moradabad. But just four days later, Hussain received a phone call.

“Someone from PM Modi’s office called me and said that he liked my work and wants to gift a pot I have made, to the German chancellor. I quickly sent one of my best-made brass pots to him,” says Hussain.

Happy with this recognition, Hussain went back to living his life. But a few months later, Hussain received another phone call, one that he never saw coming. “I was told I am winning the Padma Shri.” In March 2023, Hussain became the first brass artisan to win the prestigious Padma Shri award.  

PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

Dilshad Hussain became the first brass artisan to win the Padma Shri in March 2023. 

Despite the honor and recognition, there have been no material changes in Hussain’s life. Hussain continues to reside in a small home, which isn’t in great shape, and it is also where he works out of and sells his brass products.

“I have all these masterpieces but I have to keep them inside because I don’t even have a place to display my art. BJP’s office-bearers have come here, Zafar Islam also came here. I told them all that I don’t feel nice about where I live. I feel embarrassed that they are all such reputed people and I have to welcome them here,” he says.  
PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

Dilshad Hussain lives and works out of a small residence.

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

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Hussain isn’t just a PM Modi fan, but also officially a BJP member. “I joined the BJP because I feel the PM and the BJP have done good work to help artisans like myself,” he says. Hussain’s walls are plastered with pictures of himself with BJP leaders like CM Yogi Adityanath, Smriti Irani, and others. While local BJP workers all point to Hussain as an example of BJP’s successful outreach to Pasmanda Muslims, the brass artist doesn’t know of the term ‘pasmanda’ himself.   

“We pray five times a day, we all stand together whether we are Syed or Pathan or Ansari. There is no discrimination,” Hussain insists.  
 
Meters away from Hussain’s home, sits another brass artisan from the Pasmanda Muslim community, Usman Ghani.  

PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

Usman Ghani works at his shop just metres away from Hussain's home.

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

 “We feel good that someone in our community is now a Padma Shri awardee. But there has been no scheme or development programme for us since he got the award.” Ghani says. He denies knowing what the term ‘Pasmanda’ means either.  

Media and Politics

Most community members say they have heard the term 'Pasmanda' recently only from the media. While the term ‘Pasmanda’ itself may not have gained the kind of political cache that BJP would have expected, many members of the OBC Muslim community do acknowledge the need for a mobilisation on caste grounds among Muslims.  
 
Sahib-e-Alam, a vegetable vendor in Moradabad, is from the Malik caste, and believes that Pasmanda Muslims didn’t get the development that others did.

“Look at education, at jobs, OBC Muslims haven’t reached the heights they should have. There is a discrimination. But I feel right now it’s been made into an election issue. After elections are over, no one will ask about us,” says Alam.  

In Moradabad’s neighboring Rampur, a shrinking Samajwadi Party stronghold, NDA’s Shafeeq Ansari won the bypolls from Suar constituency previously held by Azam Khan’s son Abdullah Azam Khan. Ansari credited his victory to the Pasmanda Muslim population. Alam agrees. “Muslims voted in large numbers for Shafeeq Ansari. It’s not as if he won only due to the Hindu votes, lots of Pasmandas voted for him too... Muslims want that BJP gives them tickets as well. But BJP doesn’t give tickets to Muslims,” he says.  

PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

Shafeeq Ansari's poster at his party office in Rampur.

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

Presently, the BJP does not have a single Muslim MP in the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP has given a ticket to only a single Muslim candidate so far-- M. Abdul Salam in Kerala’s Malappuram.

Other community members, like Asif Hussain, a laborer, says he rejects the BJP’s outreach. “All political parties only want to make life worse for Muslims. It doesn’t matter if they are Ansari Muslims or not,” he says.

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'Samman, Not Sneh'

Former Rajya Sabha MP and head of All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM), Ali Anwar Ansari, had written an open letter to PM Modi in July 2022 regarding the leader’s Pasmanda Muslim outreach.

“Pasmanda Muslims want ‘sammaan’ (equality and dignity), not ‘sneh’ (affection). The term ‘sneh’ has a specific connotation: That the Pasmanda Muslims need ‘sneh’ denotes that they are an inferior lot requiring patronage from the ones who are superior,” Ansari had written in the letter.

Anwar, who formed AIPMM in 1998, is widely credited for using the term ‘Pasmanda’ to refer to OBC Muslims. Ansari’s open letter to PM Modi came after news had surfaced that BJP is planning ‘Pasmanda Sneh Yatras’ to further its outreach.  

Arsh Iqbal, state general secretary of the Ansari Sangathan, works to empower Ansari Muslims via encouraging them for education and political activism. “Earlier I used to think there is no casteism. But when I went to Aligarh Muslim University, a few classmates would say ‘Ansaris are a low caste, they don’t educate their women’. At that time they didn’t know I am Ansari. They would say Ansaris don’t educate their daughters. I gave them my own example and said I am also Ansari and I have played hockey four times nationally. My father permitted me for it and supported me throughout,” Iqbal says.  

PM Modi has frequently mentioned 'Pasmanda Muslims' in his speeches. But members of the community are skeptical.

Arsh Iqbal is the state secretary of the Ansari Sangathan.

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

Iqbal, however, doesn’t believe that BJP has good intentions behind its outreach to Pasmanda Muslims.

“Elections are around the corner. If BJP cared so much about Muslims, then Muslims wouldn’t be suffering at the hands of the BJP. This is a political ploy to get the Pasmanda Muslim vote,” she says. 

Iqbal cites the examples of those who have been lynched, and how they often come from Pasmanda community. “Moreover, if they supported Muslims so much then why would the Haldwani violence take place? Muslims were killed and their mosque demolished. Ever since this government has come to power, they are only playing the game of Mosques-Muslims, they are doing religious politics,” she adds.

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