As the poll season kicks off this month from the North-East, and would gradually involve four big States during the course of this year, the BJP is smelling an emerging votebank among a sizeable section of Muslim women, particularly those who could be bracketed as “progressive”.
The BJP’s strong optimism stems from the positive feedback it is receiving from the fair sex in the minority community due to its support for gender justice for them by way of criminalising instant talaq, and terminating the “discriminatory practice” of male escort for a woman Haj pilgrim besides ending the Haj subsidy and diverting the Rs 700 crore thus saved for the education of Muslim girls.
The party is expecting a “marginal to a tad more vote swing” among the Muslim fraternity that would give it a tailwind to better its poll performance. The BJP leadership trusts that the party’s recent steps to “empower Muslim women” would help it in the polls this year as also in the 2019 general elections just as its stand on triple talaq did during the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh last year.
Even though critics maintain that its steps on instant talaq and Haj subsidy were the result of Supreme Court orders, the BJP has claimed victory vis-à-vis the Congress whose Government, it points out, had taken a retrograde and anti-Muslim women step in the Shah Bano maintenance law case of 1985.
The BJP claims that their plank for “gender justice” for Muslim women and the launch of a slew of women-oriented welfare and educational steps would further cement the party’s ties with Muslim women as they have seen the community’s fundamentalists’ hand-in-glove relationship with the Congress.
As many as eight States namely Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh would go to polls this year.
Elections will be held in Tripura on February 18 while Meghalaya and Nagaland would vote on February 27 with results to be announced on March 3. Muslims constitute 8.6 per cent population of Tripura where BJP is trying to shake up the two-decade-old well-entrenched left-front Government. In Congress-ruled Meghalaya there are 4.4 per cent Muslims and in Nagaland there 2.5 per cent Muslims. Both these States are key to BJP’s plans for a Congress-mukt North East.
Karnataka, where BJP is expecting a tough fight against the ruling Congress Government, may go to polls by March-April. The State has one of the largest concentration of Muslim population at 12.9 per cent.
The three big BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan with 9.1 per cent Muslims, Madhya Pradesh with 6.6 per cent and Chhattisgarh with two per cent Muslim population may go to polls by the year-end along with Mizoram where Muslims constitute 1.4 per cent of the populace.
Muslims constitute 14.23 per cent of Indian population that is around 17.22 crore of which females are around 8.39 crore, closely following their male counterpart which stand at 8.82 crore. The Muslim urban population stands at 18.23 per cent that is around 6.87 crore in numbers, of which females constitute 3. 33 crore, almost equal with the 3.5-crore males , as per the all India religious census data 2011.
The largest concentration of about 47 per cent of all Muslims in India lives in the three states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar. High concentrations of Muslims are also found in states of Assam, Kerala, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and Telangana.
Claiming that a sizeable section of Muslim women who wanted the “hated triple talaq to go” supported the party in last year’s UP elections, BJP leaders hope there could be more swing in favour of the party in future. Though accepting that the BJP is not an obvious choice for Muslims, BJP leaders point that in the 2012 polls it collected 20 per cent Muslim vote “even in Gujarat” vis-à-vis the 69 per cent for the Congress. The BJP, however, could not furnish the percentage of Muslim support for the party in the 2017 Gujarat elections.
The Union Minority Affairs Ministry has announced that it would not only divert Rs 700 crore for Muslim girls education but also open central schools in 100 places with 30 per cent for Muslims and 70 per cent for other communities for ‘samveshi vikas’.
The Ministry said it is in the process to establish five world class educational institutions with 40 per cent reservation for girls from minorities to provide traditional and modern education to the communities in technical, medical, Ayurveda, Unani and other fields. These institutions will be commissioned in about two years’ time.
Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the Government will also provide marriage assistance to the tune of Rs 51,000 (per head) to families of girl students who complete their graduation availing the Centre’s Begum Hazrat Mahal scholarship.
Besides its stand on instant talaq, sending of 1,300 women without ‘Mahram’ (male blood relative or husband as escort) is being show-cased by the BJP as bringing gender equality among Muslims. But opponents claim that Saudi Arabia had not made Rs MahramRs mandatory and left a decision on it to the respective governments.
Contrary to BJP’s assertion of “empathy” with Muslim women, opposition parties and several women’s groups have criticised “the appropriation of the struggle of women’s groups” by the ruling party . They say instant talaq was declared unconstitutional because of intervention of progressive women’s groups and effective legal intervention by several progressive groups.