Opinion: Muslims voted as a strategy to defeat BJP! Know why this is not completely true

Ananya Shroff
7 Min Read

Writer- Hilal Ahmed
A popular argument is that Muslims always prefer to support anti-BJP forces to keep it out of government. This time this argument has been used very forcefully to explain the success of the all-India alliance. It is claimed that Muslims decided to vote strategically to defeat BJP candidates at the constituency level. This explanation is not wrong at all. The CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey shows that at the national level a large section of Muslims voted enthusiastically for non-BJP parties. However, this does not mean that the BJP did not get Muslim votes.

The survey shows that the party managed to get around 8% of Muslim votes at the national level. This figure is almost negligible. Still, there is a need to find out the key factors that made a section of Muslims vote for the Modi-led BJP in this election.

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There are two very distinct aspects of the BJP's Muslim policy, at least in electoral terms. The first is its Hindutva-linked actions that alienate. First, the party does not deviate from its Hindutva-driven narrative of cultural nationalism. In this framework, Muslims are either projected as a problematic entity or made almost invisible in order to claim nationalism in overtly Hindu terms.

This narrative of cultural nationalism is always used to reach out to the core, committed and loyal Hindutva voters. The derogatory and anti-Muslim remarks made by a section of senior BJP members during the election campaign are a good example in this regard.

The second is the BJP's inclusive campaign. Almost paradoxically, the BJP under Modi has presented the slogan of Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas as a reference point to reach out to all sections of society, including Muslims.

The ban on triple talaq has been projected as a political achievement. Similarly, the party has attempted to reach out to Pasmanda Muslims, which also supports its claims of a Sabka Saath policy. In fact, the impression is that the BJP has been successful in influencing the political choices of Muslim women and Pasmanda groups in its favour. Interestingly, this expression of inclusiveness has certainly helped the BJP satisfy a significant section of its Hindu voters, who expect the party to work for social and religious harmony.

Party's 2024 position
The BJP's electoral strategy for Muslims in 2024 was simple. It seems that the party decided to downplay the 'Sabka Saath' policy. The BJP's manifesto had no election promises for religious minorities. Although the Ram Mandir issue was not given any prominence in the manifesto, the party's campaign became completely Hindutva-centric.

Senior party leaders, including Modi, tried to maintain balance by making positive comments about Muslims, but the focus of the campaign remained almost one-sided.

This highly volatile political context significantly affected Muslim voting. The 8% Muslims who voted for the BJP this time was about one percentage point less than the party’s Muslim vote share in 2019.

The CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey is also useful in understanding this category of BJP's Muslim voters. Two points are important.

Gujarat vs UP
First, Muslim support for the BJP is a state-centric phenomenon. In Gujarat, for instance, the BJP got nearly 29% of the Muslim vote, while it fared much worse in the Hindi belt. In UP, it got just 2% of the Muslim vote. This state-centric Muslim voting pattern underlines how Lok Sabha elections are entirely driven by state-level issues and considerations.

Ashraf vs Pasmanda
Secondly, the socio-economic status of these Muslim voters of BJP is also an important factor. At the national level, about 12% Ashraf Muslims voted for BJP. At the same time, the party got only 5% votes of OBC Muslims.

This finding is contrary to the common perception that Muslim OBCs or Pasmanda communities are more inclined to support the BJP. Ashraf Muslims are more open to embracing the BJP. This also shows that the BJP's attack on OBC reservation has influenced the voting behaviour of the Pasmanda communities.

Middle class vs. the rest
The economic background of these 8% Muslim voters of the BJP is equally interesting. Our data shows that the party was a popular choice among the poorest and economically marginalised sections of Muslims. It got 11% of the votes from this section of Muslims. The Muslim middle class did not find the BJP attractive in this election. However, about 6% of rich and affluent Muslims voted for it.

This economic analysis points to a clear pattern. The welfare schemes launched by the Modi government to reach out to the poor and marginalised sections of society somehow worked in the party's favour. Despite being rejected by the majority Muslim voters, the BJP managed to secure the votes of poor Muslims. It seems that these Muslims behaved just like other beneficiaries of welfare schemes. The changing attitude of rich and elite Muslims can also be understood. These groups are always open to political bargaining.

Overall, this brief assessment of the BJP's Muslim vote highlights that the party has failed to formulate a clear, pragmatic electoral strategy to garner effective Muslim support in this election.

(The author is Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.)

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