The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) national executive meeting was held in Hyderabad recently. During the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about focusing on uplifting Muslims in Pasmanda. No one can oppose the elevation of a disadvantaged part of the country. It is hardly surprising to see the Prime Minister of the country paying attention to the development of such a section of society.
However, it is important to remember that Prime Minister Modi is the biggest pioneer in Indian politics right now. In such a scenario, everything he says is bound to be politically interpreted. This is why the current condition of Muslims in Pasmanda and the political mathematics associated with them have become hot topics in media discussions. Keeping in mind the general elections of 2024, new political equations are introduced involving Pasmanda Muslims.
However, the arguments used to support these equations (especially in light of the results of the Azamgarh and Rampur by-elections) do not correspond to the reality on the ground. Nor is it that Pasmanda’s politics are being scrutinized by the BJP for the first time. His partner Nitish Kumar in Bihar has worked on this formula before, but the resulting political gains have not proven permanent.
In such a situation, the question arises whether the BJP is really serious about any Pasmanda mission as the media tries to portray it. Does Modi need a new bank of votes to win the 2024 general election? Will the 2024 general elections put an end to Muslim vote-banking politics and theocratic hysteria, as Pasmanda’s separation will destroy the ability of Muslims to influence elections as a bloc?
Before looking for the answers to these questions, let’s first see who the Pasmandas are, and what is their social, economic and political status among Muslims. At the same time, we will try to discover the importance of Pasmandas for the fundamentalist shop run by the madarsa hardliners.
Who are the Pasmanda Muslims?
To show Hindus in a bad light, or to make them fight in the name of caste, it is often mentioned that Muslims are casteless or caste-based. It’s a complete lie. Consider certain castes among Muslims, Kunjre (Raeen), Julaha (Ansari), Dhuniya (Mansoori), Kasai (Qureshi), Hajjam (Salmani), Carpenter (Saifi), Manihar (Siddiqui), Tailor (Idrisi). The common point between all these castes of Muslims is that they are Pasmandas.
Pasmanda is a Persian word. It means in a broad sense backward and disadvantaged people. Most people who fall into this category are Dalits who have converted to Islam. Some also converted from other backward castes. Muslims who come under Pasmanda are also called Arzal. Simply put, these are the people whose ancestors converted from Hinduism to Islam after the arrival of the Islamic invaders. Organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad are also campaigning for them to return to their original faith.
Ashraf vs. Pasmandas
The Ashrafs come from the upper castes among the Muslims. For example, Sheikh, Sayyid, Mirza, Khan, etc. These people are either converts from the upper caste of Hindus to become Muslims, or their ancestors came from Central Asia. The Ashrafs represent only 15 to 20% of the total Muslim population in India, the rest are Pasmanda. However, privileged economic, political and social status among Muslims belongs only to those from the Ashraf class. They often use Pasmanda for their own religious and radical politics. The Islamic mob that takes to the streets in violent protests is made up of Pasmandas, while command is in the hands of Ashrafs.
What does Pasmandas want from the government
Pasmandas, who are bound by fatwas issued by madarsas, mosques and maulvises, and who form a large part of India’s Muslim population, want to be reserved under the Scheduled Caste (SC) quota. All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz recently wrote to the Prime Minister and urged him to add a dozen castes to the SC community. It’s an old request. Currently, these castes come under the OBC bracket.
The National Family Health Survey indicates that about 45% of Indian Muslims enjoy the OBC quota. To ensure that the benefit of the quota is extended to the whole community, they want to upgrade to the SC quota along with the OBC quota. Amidst this, BJP National OBC Morcha Chairman K Lakshman demanded 50% reservation for Pasmanda Muslims in Muslim institutes like Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Jamia Hamdard .
Does the BJP really need Mission Pasmanda
Ever since Prime Minister Modi uttered the word ‘Pasmanda’, the mainstream media started to organize debates like ‘BJP’s Pasmanda mission’, ‘is it easy for BJP to get Pasmanda’s support’ almost daily now. Some even claim that in the secondary polls of Azamgarh and Rampur, the BJP won only thanks to the votes of the Muslims of Pasmanda. The BJP recorded a victory in these two seats by a very narrow margin. If the Muslim community of Pasmanda had contributed to their victory, the margin would have been much higher. In fact, the BJP even won that these seats had a three-way fight.
It is true that the BJP gets a few votes from the Muslim community here and there. Some Shia Muslims and Dawoodi Bohra also vote for the BJP. In the recently concluded Vidhan Sabha elections, OpIndia found that Muslims there were happy with many plans of the Yogi government. They had even expressed their intention to vote for the BJP on its basis. But if you see the voting pattern, you will notice that the Muslim community eventually voted as the vote bank and ultimately voted for the Samajwadi party. To put things into perspective, over 3.5 million Muslims in Uttar Pradesh are Pasmanda.
Pasmanda’s “Experience” in Bihar
In 2005, under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, when the JDU-BJP government was formed in Bihar, the Pasmanda card was played to garner votes. Bihar has over 1.5 crore Pasmanda Muslims. Pasmanda community leader like Ali Anwar was sent to Rajya Sabha by JDU under the same policy. Experts view the appointment of Danish Pasmanda leader Ansari as a minister in the Yogi government through a similar political lens.
But the effects of this policy played by Nitish Kumar were only visible during the 2010 elections to Vidhan Sabha. JDU was able to perform very well in some seats where Muslim votes play a decisive role largely due to the Pasmanda vote split. This split in the Muslim-Yadav vote also led to the defeat of Lalu Yadav’s RJD in these elections. But, even in these elections, Pasmanda voted for opposition parties where the JDU-BJP alliance had fielded a BJP candidate.
In the 2015 elections, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav contested together in an alliance and the entire Muslim vote bank supported them. This means that part of the Pasmanda community who had come to the JDU from Nitish because of the benefits provided by the NDA, never quite supported the BJP. In 2017, when JDU and RJD broke the alliance, even leader Pasmanda Ali Anwar parted ways in the name of Muslim solidarity. Also in the 2020 elections, this community voted for the RJD. This means that even the political advantage that Nitish Kumar received did not last long. When the benefits of government programs were new, they voted as “Pasmanda”, but in the following elections, they voted as “Muslims”. This is also why due to some projects of UP government, some Muslims in Deoband also voted for BJP.
Under Narendra Modi, the BJP recorded phenomenal victories in the parliamentary elections of 2014 and 2019. If things turn out like this, 2024 also looks to be in its favor. To date, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to show that there has been a split in votes for the BJP, the same votes that won it in the last two elections. According to recent surveys, Modi’s popularity has not lost its luster at all. On the other hand, the opposition continues to remain fragmented. In such a case, even a basic understanding of politics shows that the political decision to appease the “beneficiaries of Pasmanda” does not make sense at this point. In fact, it could also threaten to upset the support base that actually votes for the party.
Therefore, it seems that the benefits given to the Pasmanda community seem to be an extension of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ policy that he talked about. Even the BJP knows that this policy has received no political gain and hopes to gain nothing.
In reality, the “Pasmanda Plan” is important not for the political position of the BJP but from the point of view of a self-reliant India. Until a community in India is destitute, the dream of a strong and self-sufficient India will not be realized. In places like Deoband, where the Muslim community talks about the benefits received under the BJP government, it is a step towards empowering India. But the most important point is that the community that took to the streets to terrorize Hindus by throwing stones, calling for beheading, development will be an unlikely yardstick for them.
To note: Originally published on Hindi website, you can read it here.