For several days in June last year, Ayaz Shaikh could not go to his carpentry workshop as he ran from lawyers to police station to court, hoping to get his 17-year-old son out of trouble.

On June 6, his son was among five minors in Kolhapur detained by the police for sharing an Instagram post featuring pictures of 18th-century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan – and subsequently sent to a remand home.

Mistaking Tipu Sultan for Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, Hindutva groups had accused the boys of hurting religious sentiments and insulting Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the 17th-century Maratha ruler revered in Maharashtra.

A mob had gathered outside Shaikh’s home and thrown stones, injuring another son while his elderly mother hid inside. Riots soon broke out in Kolhapur on June 7, 2023, damaging 80 vehicles and property worth Rs 7 lakh.

“After my son came out of juvenile home, we feared for his safety for months,” he said. Most rioters, said Shaikh, were residents from their neighbourhood. “This had never happened before,” said Shaikh. “And we hope it does not get repeat.”

When Shaikh went to vote on May 7, he resolved to support a political party that would ensure peace. He voted for Congress candidate Chhatrapati Shahu Shahaji, a descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

In his campaigns, Shahaji told voters that he chose to enter active politics at the age of 76 “to protect the Constitution” and “to retain democracy”.

When the results came in on June 4, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party stopped short of a simple majority, its tally reduced from 303 seats to 240.

Shahaji won by a margin of 1.5 lakh votes, defeating a candidate of the Shiv Sena, which is a BJP ally.

The verdict came as a relief for several Muslim voters, who have faced the brunt of demolitions, hateful speech and discrimination in the last decade. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s divisive speeches throughout the election campaign had targeted Muslims, referring to them as “infiltrators” and “those who have more children”.

“People are fed up with riots, with inflation,” said Shaikh. “The results show that one party cannot continue to dominate.”

But for many Muslim voters who spoke to Scroll, the hope for an end to the politics of hate is tempered with caution.

‘People have resisted’

Saidur Rahman Mullah, a 40-year-old pharmacist in a remote village in Western Assam’s Dhubri, is hopeful that the results will rein in the BJP, which he said had “dehumanised the Muslims” in the state.

“The BJP is targeting Muslims, evicting them from their homes, arresting and putting them in jail for child marriages,” he said.

Mullah said madrassas were shut and masjids were demolished. “But the results show that one cannot rule a country with such hate and prejudice.” Mullah’s own shop was demolished six months ago by the Dhubri administration.

Mullah is most optimistic about the Congress’s performance. But he felt that Muslims of Bengali-origin will continue to be under siege unless there is a change in the government in Assam. Since 2021, Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma-led administration has been openly targeted Muslims in the state, especially those of Bengali origin.

“Perhaps, if Congress manages to form a government in Delhi, it can return to power in Assam too in 2026,” said Mullah.

Saidur Rahman Mullah, on the extreme left, in his village in Assam. Credit: Rokibuz Zaman.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur, 38-year-old Mohammed Salim said the verdict will force the BJP to soften its stance against Muslims. “Pehle akramak the. Earlier they were in attack mode,” he said. “Now even if the NDA forms a government, police atrocities will be reduced. The administration will not do as it pleases.”

Salim took hope in the representation of Muslims in Parliament. In the Saharanpur constituency, where Salim voted, Imran Masood from the Congress won by a margin of over 64,000 votes, taking the total number of Muslim parliamentarians to 24, which is still lower than the 26 elected in 2019.

Shaheed Ahmed, a 29-year-old Barpeta-based legal researcher, said that the resurgence of the Opposition had made him hopeful about democracy.

“Despite the Election Commission trying its best to favour the ruling party, people have resisted and fought for democracy,” Ahmed said. The Congress should represent and speak for the people so that they can breathe, he said.

‘Not a defeat of communalism’

Several other voters were reluctant to read too much into the verdict.

In Mumbai, 24-year-old law student Umair Alware said the results are “not a defeat of communalism”. It will still take time to change the communal mindset and how the majority community perceives Muslims in India, said Alware. “BJP has not lost,” said Alware. “They only have fewer seats than the last term.” Voters who had drained their savings during the Covid-19 pandemic had sent the ruling party a message, he said.

Alware, however, was relieved that the BJP’s inability to secure an absolute majority could push back the party’s agenda of introducing a uniform civil code, implementing simultaneous state and general elections, and creating a National Register of Citizens.

Ashiqua Ahmed, a resident of Bongaigoan district, however, counted the losses of the past decade. “I have felt more isolated and helpless each day for the last 10 years because of the increasing hate against Muslims, communal speeches and the indifference of most people to that,” she said. “I still believe we have a long way to go and it’s too early to rejoice maybe, but at least it feels a little less suffocating.”

Also read: Opinion: At the end of a vitriolic campaign, what price will India’s Muslims pay?