Quite along the lines I had expected, the clearest and loudest message of the UP verdict 2022 is that in essential terms, and in terms of electoral effectiveness, there are only two groups of electorates: Muslims and those harbouring anti-Muslim hatred. A casual conversation with impoverished vegetable and fruit sellers, cart-pullers, rickshaw pullers, carpenters and smiths and such classes in Hindu localities of rural and urban UP was making it abundantly clear. Our reporters were misleading us with the issues such as stray cattle. Fact is, it was the other way round. The voters were misleading certain news-persons. By now, voters have turned smarter and more cunning than the newspersons. This was made clearer with the way the incumbent regime campaigned. Speeches after speeches, re-election was sought only in these terms. The talk of law and order and crackdown against the gangsters had very clear insinuation in their not too subtle double entendres. The qualifier 'M' [Muslim] for the gangsters was kept unsaid, but conveying the unsaid stood fully accomplished. The radio campaign of the governing party was, jo tthokeyga, usi ko chunengey (the regime which will hit "them", i.e, the 'M', must be re-elected). In some of the speeches the Union Home minister preferred to become explicit, and even the pretence of concealing the qualifier, 'M' was dropped with ease as well as with pride, particularly while addressing public rallies in Muslim concentration places like Rampur.
Our training in social science researches have long been revolving around class analysis. This training could have made many analysts and observers feel that given the persistent economic crises aggravated by sudden and heartless demonetization, rising inflation, growing joblessness, arrogant forsaking of healthcare and denying dignity even in death during the pandemic less than a year ago, reckless and corrupt sale-out of the public sector and every such issue, may have suggested (or misled) the observers and analysts that the petty-shopkeepers, retailers, people working with the unorganised sectors, jobless educated youth and other such people could be angry with the regime. That was not to be. My conversations with the above-mentioned categories made it abundantly clear to me that they don't have much grievances with the regime. They continue to repose their faith in Hindutva and their profound distrust in all forces opposed to the Hindutva. Even if there won't have been any pro-poor populism labharthi (beneficiaries) of free food grain, there could not have been any grievance of the poor against the Hindutva regime. Before anything else, they want Hindu supremacy and subjugated Muslims. Certain dominant OBCs are putting themselves up before the BJP only for their own sake, that too just in electoral fray, not in everyday politics of comprehensive resistance. In fact, when elections are away, such political formations and leaders just run away and hide somewhere.
Seeing Muslims in new light
There is a fast decline in the proportion of the liberal-seculars. Even among the Muslim elites, a section is fast rationalising to coming to terms with Hindutva. Some of the Muslim professors aspiring to become (or continue as) vice chancellor have already been advocating so, through their columns in national English dailies. Segments of well-off, university educated NRI Muslims (retaining, or having shunned, Indian citizenship) have been endorsing such views by extending honour, felicitations and invitations to such selfserving and opportunist Muslims. The number of Muslim elites thronging around the Rashtriya Muslim Manch leader Indresh for certain personal favours is hardly a secret by now. Of course, segments within such categories of Muslims, including their, howsoever feeble, Right Wing, do pretend to be 'minoritarians' doggedly resisting majoritarianism. They get prodding and encouragement from a segment of fast shrinking Leftists and liberals in academia and media, who spare their regressivism and opportunism.
The latter category dodges and blinds the common Muslims and fellow liberals who don't let them see the ground-realities of unabashed anti-Muslim hatred. They would refrain from exposing the opportunism of newly elected Muslim MLAs. While their co-religionists were pained to see the majoritarian triumphalism, many of these newly elected Muslim MLAs were celebrating with greater gusto disregarding the worst of fears of the UP Muslims that had come true on the day. Just as during 1940-47, the Muslim League leaders had used the Muslims of UP and Bihar and left them helpless having got their own 'homeland', the leaders of Muslims and their supporters from the Muslim concentration districts were demonstratively celebrating their own personal victory disregarding the helplessness of fellow Muslims in rest of the province. This pain and complaint was particularly expressed by some level-headed young Muslims on the social media.
Majoritarian support base
The regional political forces (while fighting the BJP only on the eve of elections) mislead their core support base by shifting the blame on EVMs only after the polls. Rest of the time, they keep mum on EVMs, as much as they stay away from taking the regime head on through mobilizations. In the era of autocratic regimes and growing compromises of institutions and fast falling credibility of institutions, possibilities of EVM manipulations may not be ruled out. But that is not the factor of BJP's win. In the Assembly segments of certain Lok Sabha constituencies (such as Benaras and Gorakhpur), the ruling regime thriving on personality cults, will have greater stakes to win maximum seats, maximum votes, and for that there could be some truth in the news-reports of EVM tampering.
But the popular support for majoritarianism on the ground is quite visible. Their urge to set Muslims right is barely hidden. The 'centuries of Hindu trauma inflicted by Muslim rulers' is the only biggest concern among a significant number of electorates. UP fits the bill of this propaganda even more. 'Living instances' of such 'trauma' endure till today, be it Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura, or the Muslim landed aristocracy of western UP, or even the dramatis personae of Partition such as Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, Liyaqat Ali Khan, …. The 'historically traumatized' Hindus don't expect the BJP to resolve the problems of economy and employment. They want avenging the historical wrongs and 'cultural gratification' such as the acts like rechristening Allahabad to Prayag Raj, a grand temple (bhavya mandir) to Lord Ram, and most important of all, these, persecution, subjugation, marginalization and invisibilization of Muslims. Gone are the days when an accomplished Muslim was displayed as India's pride. Now, this is taken as 'Hindu' shame.
BJP narrative built over decades
In the 1920s and 1930s too, UP was undergoing this transformation towards majoritarianism. Nandini Gooptu's 2001 book, The Politics of the Urban Poor in Early Twentieth Century India studied the socioeconomic transformations in selected cities of UP and demonstrated the growing communalization of subaltern communities and use of them as tools by their elites to range them against the people of other faith. Charu Gupta's 2001 book, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims and the Hindu Public in Colonial India, is another significant study where, through innovative propaganda manipulations, otherization and hate was propagated around the issues such as mythical cults of Suheldeo versus Ghazi Miyan, and campaigns of bringing back Muslims to the Hindu fold through Ghar Wapsi, 'lustful Muslim males violating the pure body of the Hindu woman', helped a lot in polarization.
Too many vernacular periodicals, pamphlets and handbills aided this propaganda despite very limited literacy. The colonial state played its own part, including backing the Muslim separatists, demonstrated more clearly by Venkat Dhulipala's 2015 book, Creating New Medina, after Francis Robinson's 1974 book. Historian William Gould's 2005 book Hindu Nationalism and the Language of Politics demonstrates that the Congress stalwarts of UP such as PD Tandon, GB Pant and Sampurnanand were more majoritarians and least pluralists. Nehru was pained at this even after independence. Nehru's helplessness is lucidly demonstrated by Piyush Babele's recent Hindi book on Nehru (chapter 23) which has run into many editions. The temerity of the then DM Faizabad, K K Nair, to have defied the DIG, Chief Secretary and even the Prime Minister, and support he got from some Congressmen, is by now better known. What is less known is that around that time a hotel of Faizabad owned by a Muslim was vacated by the government under section 144. The very next day it was grabbed by a Hindu, renamed as Gomti hotel, within four days, and he ran it as his enterprise. (Babele's book recounts that incidents of eve-teasing of Muslim women and assaulting Hindu men had become recurrent in those parts of UP in early years of independence).
All this remained irreversible, despite Nehru's pains at such sordid developments. Such expectations are even more intense in UP, the heartland, which they think, must become 'Hindu' heartland. Only a Gujarat will not do. A combination of the populous UP and rich Gujarat will do this "Hindu cultural gratification" more convincingly to the growing number of pro-Hindutva Hindus. No party other than BJP can really deliver on that. The Hindus resisting such projects of cultural nationalism are samaj drohi (the one who has rebelled against the Hindu samaj). This is how, an uncle, a family friend of ours, since generations, and a recent convert to Hindutva put it. By virtue of being Hindu, such 'renegades' won't be labelled desh drohi. More than five years ago, on June 22, 2017, a journalist asked Irfan Habib (the noted historian from the Aligarh Muslim University, who lived through Partition and Emergency, both difficult time for Muslims) whether the educated Muslim youth, active on social media, can really make a difference. Irfan Habib, the Marxist, rarely talks along identitarian lines. He had however prognosticated: "No, they cannot do anything. They must bow down to their fate. We are no longer a secular country". Our neighbour, Pakistan came into existence as a nation on the basis of communal exclusionary ideology. During 1977-1988, it became particularly more majoritarian reactionary. India is increasingly becoming like that. May be, legacies of the national movement, assassination of Gandhi by bigots, and presence of Nehru may have helped India succumbing to majoritarianism lather late. But that was perhaps quite inevitable, sooner, or later. Asians rarely show repentance for their wrongs. Pogroms after pogroms, lynch after lynch, hate-filled ideology will keep gaining strength and power and keep framing Muslim youth under false charges with the harshest possible laws, make them languish in jails for years and decades. Time and again the victims will be asked to forget and move on. As the collective memories of the victims will refuse to do so, many of even the well meaning people will keep blaming the victims for this dogged refusal. The victims shall still have to learn how to manage to live on. I just pray, my diagnosis turns out to be wrong in the years to come, when India's proud civilizational characteristic of plurality shall stage a comeback to reclaim India for all Indians! Or, at least a comeback of little diluted majoritarian India where its Muslims shall be allowed to work on capacity-building, on their own!
Prof. Mohammad Sajjad teaches modern and contemporary Indian History in Aligarh Muslim University. He has authored Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contour (Routledge, 2014/2018 reprint). Views expressed are personal.