SP defends Akhilesh’s ‘strategic silence’ on Muslims, but questions remain

Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav’s alleged silence on issues concerning Muslims drew the ire of a section of his party last week, but leaders close to him say that the “strategic move” was adopted in the run-up to the elections to stop the BJP’s “politics of religious polarisation”, and keep Other Backward Class (OBC) and upper caste voters on its side.

On April 10, Rampur MLA Azam Khan’s media in-charge Fasahat Ali Khan alias Shanu lashed out at the SP, saying that while it won 111 seats because of the Muslim vote Akhilesh “keeps mum when under the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government FIRs are lodged against Muslims, their properties are attached and recoveries are carried out from them”. The day before, the SP’s Sambhal MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq reportedly lashed out at the party for allegedly not “working for Muslims”.

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Sources in the party said it had been decided several months ago that it would not get involved in the BJP’s attempts “to give communal colour to any issue ahead of polls”. To avoid allegations of Muslim appeasement, the party even instructed its functionaries at training sessions held after the defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections not to take aggressive positions on issues concerning the community.

“We had to stop the BJP from communal polarisation in elections. Muslims were already appearing in support of the SP as only our party seemed to be in a position to defeat the BJP. We needed the support of the OBCs and the upper castes who voted for the BJP in the 2014, 2017 and 2019 elections as Hindus without caring about the damage the BJP was causing to social justice. To prevent OBCs and the upper castes from consolidating as Hindus in the BJP’s favour again, the SP needed to shrug off the tag of Muslim appeasement,” said an SP leader from the minority community.

Referring to Akhilesh’s remarks last November about Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah being leaders who fought for India’s independence, the SP leader added, “But once Akhilesh spoke about Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the BJP grabbed it as an opportunity to target the SP and all top BJP leaders it in their public meetings started accusing the SP of Muslim appeasement.”

Other party insiders said that because of the strategy of not engaging the BJP on such issues, Akhilesh did not react when the ruling party targeted the SP over matters such as the firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya in 1990, withdrawal of cases against terror accused, the Taliban. In the last five years, the SP was also not too vocal about the closure of slaughterhouses, they claimed.

But those impatient with the SP president’s continued silence pointed out that the party’s strategy had failed to propel it to power. Despite Akhilesh’s alleged reticence, Muslims voted for the party. Of the 111 SP MLAs, 30 are Muslim. Among the SP’s allies, of the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD) eight MLAs, two are Muslims while one of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party’s (SBSP) six MLAs is from the minority community. In total, of the 125 MLAs of the SP-led alliance, 33 MLAs are Muslim. No Muslim candidate from any other party won the election.

An SP leader said Akhilesh must change his strategy ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and not take Muslim voters for granted. The SP chief must reach out to voters and make them aware of social justice issues, the leader added.

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