There has long existed a narrative in Indian politics that paints a picture of strategic Muslim voting. This is how it goes: Muslims pick a party or a leader and then back them to the hilt against supposedly communal forces such as the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Ironically, a counter to this narrative has now come from the BJP itself – which spent most of its history complaining about the Muslim votebank. After the BJP sweep in the Uttar Pradesh elections, a new theory has emerged which posits that Muslims did vote for the BJP after all.
Winning Muslim seats
In one case, the argument is driven by the scale of the BJP win in the state. The party got almost 40% of the votes polled and won 77% of the seats in the Assembly, bagging 312 out of 403 constituencies in the state. The scale of the victory indicates that the party has won many constituencies with large numbers of Muslim voters. For example, according to this report, the BJP won 62 of 82 constituencies where the community comprises a third of the population.
The most prominent example of this is the seat of Deoband, home to the famous Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, which went to the BJP’s Brijesh Singh.
Of course, having a famous madrassah doesn’t mean much in an election – voter numbers do. As this analysis by India Today’s Piyush Babaele shows, Deoband is a Hindu-majority constituency with only 27% Muslims (approximately 80,000). The BJP got a little more than one lakh votes here, while there are more than two lakh Hindu voters. Given the numbers, a purely Hindu vote bank was easily sufficient to make the BJP win, thus making Deband a poor seat to try and prove that Muslims voted BJP.
Triple talaq struck a chord
Another argument put forward by the BJP was that Muslim women in Uttar Pradesh voted for the party because of its stance on ending triple talaq.
The BJP has been pushing this issue for a long time now, talking about the rights of Muslim women in the hope of attracting the female vote. It is not unusual in India for women to vote differently from their husbands, fathers and brothers, as was seen in the case of the late Jayalalithaa, who was re-elected for a second consecutive term as Tamil Nadu chief minister in 2016, thanks in part to the large support of women voters.
However, even if Muslim women did break with their menfolk and vote for the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh elections, there is still no on-ground evidence for it. On the contrary, the party has very little to show for this claim. As Rukmini S points out in the Huffington Post, the BJP lost all Muslim-majority constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. All of the seven seats where Muslims account for more than 50% of the population went to the Samajwadi Party.
Yogi has Muslims attendents
With Adityanath being sworn-in as chief minister of the Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, this narrative has acquired a new dimension.
The hardline Hindutva image of the Gorakhpur strongman posed a challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party. However, since his elevation, social media accounts known to be sympathetic to the BJP are countering this by spreading narratives which seek to show Adityanath’s attitude towards Muslims in softer light.
In one case, a screenshot of a Facebook post by a journalist named “Imran Khan” who claims to have been surprised when he found out that Adityanath had adopted an orphaned Muslim boy, who was now his closest personal aide. “Don’t fall for your set notions,” the post ends. “The world often isn’t the way it seems.”
This claim got around enough for ABP news to land up at Adityanath’s house and verify that the viral post was false – Adityanath did not have an Muslim orphan as his close aide.
Rioting versus Muslim attendants
The Muslims-as-aide angle, it seems, is not only restricted to social media: it has jumped over to mainstream newspapers as well. On Monday, both the Economic Times and the Hindustan Times published a story which narrated the story of a Muslim man who served in the cow shelter of Gorakhnath temple, headed by Adityanath. The Financial Express, in turn, takes note of the temple employing Muslims and concludes that “the facts of the Mutt [the abbey of which Adityanath is head priest] show that Yogi has been wrongly painted as anti-Muslim by the media”.
However, Adityanath’s reptuation as a hardliner comes from his hate speeches – such as this one, where he asks for the killing of one Hindu to be avenged by the murder of 100 Muslims – and alleged instances of rioting. The charges against him include attempt to murder, criminal intimidation, rioting, promoting enmity between different groups and defiling place of worship. None of these venomous statements and rather serious charges can be balanced out by the Gorakhnath temple hiring Muslim attendants.