Is Suar Bypoll Win a Sign That BJP’s Pasmanda Outreach in UP Is Bearing Fruit?

The Suar Assembly bypoll could be viewed as the first true test of the BJP's policy of drawing Pasmanda Muslims.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Apna Dal (Sonelal) candidate Shafeek Ahmed Ansari defeated Anuradha Chauhan of the Samajwadi Party in the bypolls held on 10 May for Uttar Pradesh's Suar Assembly seat by a margin of 8,724 votes.

Ansari polled 68,630 votes to Chauhan's 59,906.

Apna Dal (Sonelal) is a member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the Bharatiya Janata Party's backing was critical for its candidate to win the Suar seat.

Atif Rasheed, former vice chairman of the National Commission for Minorities and a key figure in the BJP's Pasmanda Muslim outreach campaign, told The Quint that every significant BJP leader from UP campaigned for Ansari and that the BJP shifted its whole vote to Apna Dal candidate.

The Suar seat fell vacant in February after Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan's son Abdullah Azam Khan was disqualified as an MLA after a Moradabad court sentenced him to two years in prison in a 15-year-old case.


In a constituency with a Muslim population of 61.23 percent, the Suar bypoll pitted a BJP-backed Muslim candidate against a Samajwadi Party-backed Hindu contender.

The Suar Assembly bypoll could be viewed as the first true test of the BJP's policy of drawing Pasmanda Muslims on the ground.

Apna Dal chose Ansari, a Pasmanda Muslim, over Haider Ali Khan, also known as Hamza Miyan, who is the grandson of Rampur's last Nawab, Syed Raza Ali Khan.

BJP's First Major Pasmanda Muslim Victory: Atif Rasheed

"Rampur has always been Azam Khan's stronghold, which means that the upper castes have always dominated the area in every way," Rasheed told The Quint.

"This time, the BJP workers in the area worked on the Pasmanda outreach, and we even got votes from them," Rasheed added.

Rasheed claims that this has occurred not only in the Uttar Pradesh assembly bypolls but also in local body elections, with numerous Muslim candidates winning chairmanship to nagar panchayats. "This is the party's first major Pasmada Muslim victory," Rasheed said.

NDA’s Pasmanda Candidate Backed by ‘Lower’ Muslim Castes: Rasheed

Rasheed told The Quint that the Muslim Pasmanda candidate, backed by the BJP, received sizeable votes from the Alwi caste, also known as Faqir, Qureshi, Saifi – a sub-caste of blacksmiths and carpenters – and Ansaris (weavers caste), as well as some Banjara votes.

The BJP fielded 395 Muslim candidates, including 358 for councillor positions, with at least 56 of them winning. There were 32 candidates for the position of nagar panchayat chairperson, with 5 of them winning. Five candidates were fielded for the position of chairpersons of nagar palikas (municipal councils), but none of them won.

"We are seeing a change in the Muslim community," Rasheed told The Quint. "The Congress and the Samajwadi Party have never stood by them or asked them to vote for their progress, but have always asked them to vote against the BJP and exploited their fears," he said.


Modi’s Pasmanda Outreach Since 2022

"There have been numerous Pasmanda movements in the past. Many individuals speak up for Pasmandas. For the first time in history, a political party (BJP) that no one could have predicted, particularly Narendra Modi, whom many people in the country see as a Hindu icon and the BJP as a Hindutva party, is fighting for the rights of Pasmanda Muslims," Rasheed claimed.

“... among our minorities, especially among Muslims, we have Pasmanda Muslims. How we have to take benefits to them... as they even today after so many years of Independence remain far behind,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a webinar on 'Reaching the Last Mile' on 27 February. Modi said his government would be launching a special mission for the most deprived.

The BJP launched its Pasmanda Muslim campaign in 2022, conducting many events, most notably a meeting in Lucknow in October with notable members and intellectuals from the Pasmanda Muslim community.

In July 2022, he told the BJP national executive in Hyderabad that the party needed to reach out to Pasmanda Muslims and urged UP leaders to embrace backward Muslims with love and affection (sneh), and suggested that the party organise 'sneh yatras' across the state.

Ali Anwar wrote an open letter Modi in response, asking if the call to carry out 'sneh yatras' was aimed at pitting Muslims against one another and "something to do with vote-bank politics."

Anwar also pressed Modi on rising anti-Muslim sentiment and how 'Pasmanda' Muslims are disproportionately targeted during communal attacks.


“What is the point in taking out a ‘sneh yatra’ if hate statements and bulldozers also go on? Pasmanda Muslims have been the worst hit of all in the campaigns of mob lynching in the name of cow protection, ghar-wapsi, love jihad, Tablighi jihad in the time of Corona pandemic or any temple-mosque conflict that have been going on since 2014. Those killed, burnt, maimed, framed in police cases and jailed due to such incidents were mostly Pasmanda Muslims,” Ansari wrote to the PM.

‘BJP in Favour of Political Pasmanda; Opposes Inclusion in SC List’

Hilal Ahmad, associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), who has researched on political Islam, Muslim politics of representation, and symbol politics in South Asia, spoke to The Quint about the BJP's Pasmanda Muslim outreach.

"I can say with confidence that only in Bihar Nitish Kumar did some work, the BJP in that sense is the second party which has raised this question. What is interesting is that the BJP is merely interested in the question of ‘Pasmanda’ when it comes to the political aspect," Ahmad remarked.

However, it rejects the Pasmanda demand for the Scheduled Caste status, claiming that the main purpose of reservation in India is to reform Hinduism. "They have categorically opposed the inclusion of Dalit Muslims in the SC list in the parliament," Ahmad noted.

‘Under BJP, Prospects of Political Representation for Pasmanda Muslims High’

BJP leader Atif Rasheed claimed that the Opposition parties have never represented the 'Pasmanda' Muslims, who are estimated to account for 85-90 percent of India's overall Muslim population. "For the first time, there are prospects of political representation for Pasmanda Muslims, and as a result, Muslim voting patterns have changed," he stated.


He feels that the more Pasmanda Muslims participate in politics at the grassroots level, in panchayats, municipalities, and so on, the higher their chances of social and economic upliftment. "BJP is only working on that front, and that is why we got such a good result in Uttar Pradesh," he said.

However, the BJP did not field any Muslim candidates in the UP Assembly elections in 2017 or 2022. In 2022, the BJP Minority Morcha chief Jamal Siddiqui had reportedly urged the central leadership to field least 20 Muslim candidates in UP. The plea went unheard.

BJP’s Pasmanda Outreach Strategy of Divide and Rule?

The BJP's outreach is a socially and politically significant moment in Indian politics. This division in the 200 million-strong minority community is especially significant and challenging for the Opposition, which is relying on en masse strategic voting by Muslims against BJP's Hindutva politics.

When questioned if the BJP's strategy is to divide Muslim voters, Rasheed responded, "Don't opposition parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have an OBC or SC wing? Do we claim that they are dividing Hindus? We don't. Every political party has the right to expand its mandate in every community."

"They have misled the Pasmandas since 1947, merely exploiting them as a vote bank... They are troubled because they see their vote bank shifting," he added.

Rasheed accused Congress and the Samajwadi Party of failing to improve the socio-economic position of Muslims despite having Muslim ministers in their cabinets. “What benefit does this have for Muslims? How many Muslims have advanced in their careers or education? Because they are attempting to change things from the top. They never got to the people,” he said.


Rasheed recalled how Muslims in Gujarat voted for the BJP in the Assembly elections in 2022. This is despite the fact that the BJP had not fielded a single Muslim candidate in any of Gujarat's 182 Assembly seats.

‘Pasmanda Outreach To Demonstrate the Party's Inclusiveness’

Ahmad believes that the idea that Hindutva ideology is the primary guiding principle for the BJP's politics tends to be exaggerated. According to Ahmad, the BJP needs a positive social narrative for the 2024 campaign.

According to Ahmad, CSDS-Lokniti surveys suggests that BJP voters can be divided into three groups: committed voters who constitute the party's core support base and remain committed to its programme and policies in changing circumstances; party sympathisers who would certainly vote for the BJP and are inclined to the Hindutva ideology but may have critical positions on certain issues; and floating voters who are not affiliated with any party. In previous elections, the BJP received votes from these floating voters also.

"If we look at the trends of the last three to four years, we can see that the BJP's second and third segments of voters are unsure about supporting the kind of aggressive Hindutva that the BJP is attempting to push. In this situation, it is logical for the BJP to please the latter two groups by demonstrating its inclusiveness," Ahmad explained.

In other words, the goal of the Pasmanda outreach in this sense is to demonstrate the party's inclusiveness, at least symbolically. According to Ahmad, the BJP is also interested in the sociological aspect of Pasmanda politics so as to demonstrate that Muslim society is similarly split.


Does BJP Need Muslim Votes?

When asked if the BJP needed Muslim voters, Ahmad replied that it does in some ways. "We have a very specific voting system known as first-past-the-post voting. So, at the constituency level, no political party can disregard the importance of local Muslims who live in that seat," he stated. He further said that the BJP would "try to make a winning configuration, protect it, and destroy theirs."

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