Four months have passed since Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the challenges faced by Pasmanda Muslims in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, during a party address. However, the situation remains unchanged for the community in the state now gearing up for Assembly elections. Contrary to expectations, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not fielded any backward Muslim candidates.

It is being said that the Prime Minister's focus on the Pasmanda issue was a strategic move to influence the Muslim vote bank. This vote bank is a pivotal factor in a state where the victory margin between the BJP and Congress has hovered around 1 percent, in terms of vote share, in recent elections.

In a Muslim-dominated area of Qazi camp in Bhopal, where the shadow of the Bhopal gas tragedy still looms large, several Pasmanda Muslims interviewed by The Citizen,were sceptical about the government's promises.

Mursaleen Mansoori, the owner of a quilt shop and a resident of this locality since the 1990s, said, "The area where you are standing right now is also predominantly Pasmanda Muslim, but you can observe the dismal civic conditions here – open drains, filth all around. Why doesn't the government attempt to improve the living conditions for Pasmanda Muslims, especially considering it has been in power in the state?"

Pasmanda Muslims are considered socially and economically disadvantaged within the Muslim community in India, and constitute a significant portion of the population. Concrete data on the exact number of Pasmanda Muslims in the country or in Madhya Pradesh is lacking.

However, experts studying the Pasmanda movement and politics estimate their population to be around 50-60 percent of the total Muslim population. It is important to note that the term "Pasmanda" is not constitutional and does not hold any legal significance as of now.

Mursaleen Waseem from Islampur locality in Bhopal, believes that Narendra Modi's claim about the subjugation of Pasmanda Muslims is accurate. Waseem, as an OBC Muslim, feels discriminated against both at the individual and community levels. “What Modi ji said then strongly resonates with me. For far too long, Muslims like us have faced discrimination from within our own community.

“This internal prejudice has often gone unnoticed and unaddressed. Now, however, there is a shift. People are starting to acknowledge our existence and are engaging in conversations about the suffering we endure. Modi ji's words shed light on the deep-seated issues we face, and it's crucial that we continue these discussions to create awareness and work towards a more inclusive society where every individual is treated with dignity and respect,” Waseem said.

However, he also emphasised that while the Prime Minister addressed the issue of discrimination against Pasmanda Muslims, there has been little tangible action taken to improve the lives of OBC Muslims. In contrast, Waseem believes that a significant portion of the victims of violence against Muslims are also from backward Muslim communities.

The observation sheds light on the intersectionality of social and religious prejudices faced by marginalised groups within the broader Muslim community. It underlines the urgent need for comprehensive societal change and targeted interventions to uplift these communities.

“The government should at least ensure that these killings stop and Pasmanda Muslims are not subjected to violence before doing anything more for us; this is the least one can expect. Otherwise, one has all the reason to believe that talks around Pasmanda Muslims are election gimmicks and lip service."

Waseem's plea highlights a glaring disparity between rhetoric and action. His words echo the frustration felt by many, underscoring the need for genuine commitment and meaningful change to address the plight of Pasmanda Muslims and other marginalised communities within the broader spectrum of society.

Many are now questioning the BJP's lack of intent in fielding Pasmanda Muslim candidates. In the 230-member Assembly of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has announced candidates for 136 seats, yet not a single one is a Muslim candidate has been named.

According to the 2011 census data, Muslims constitute approximately 6.57% of Madhya Pradesh's total population. The state is home to around 5 million Muslims, with over a million residing in more than 19 districts.

Muslims play a significant role in nearly two dozen Assembly constituencies, including key ones such as: Indore-1, Indore-3, Ujjain, Jabalpur, Khandwa, Ratlam, Javara, Gwalior, Shajapur, Mandla, Neemuch, Mahidpur, Mandsaur, Indore-5, Nasrullaganj, Ichhawar, Ashta, and Ujjain South, owing to their substantial presence. This demographic factor underscores their notable political influence in these regions.

Anas Ali, President of the Barkatullah Youth Forum, an organisation dedicated to empowering Muslim youths in Madhya Pradesh, questioned the lack of representation for Pasmanda Muslims within the political sphere, “If the BJP truly cared about the challenges faced by Pasmanda Muslims, they should have ensured giving at least one ticket to a candidate from the community. What could be more empowering than integrating them into the democratic process and making them an integral part of the power structure?"

However, within the Pasmanda community, there exists a diversity of opinions regarding voting patterns. Akhtar, a 50-year-old resident of Umraodulha locality in Bhopal, identifies himself simply as a Muslim without any additional labels. While he does not emphasise his religious identity in his daily life, he aligns his voting choices with other Muslims, often leaning towards supporting the Congress party in the state. This sentiment underscores the significance of consolidating Muslim votes, a factor crucial to the electoral dynamics of Madhya Pradesh.

In the 2018 elections, the Congress secured a vote share of 40.89%, trailing behind the BJP, which had a marginally higher share at 41.02%. Current opinion polls indicate a similar 1% difference in vote share between the two parties.

Mohammad Mahir, a prominent member of the Muslim Vikas Parishad, highlighted a pivotal factor that he says could sway the elections. “Even a slight deviation from bloc voting within the Muslim community could significantly impact the Congress, potentially tipping the scales in favour of the BJP. This delicate balance of power underscores the intricate interplay of voting patterns within the Muslim community, which holds the potential to reshape the political landscape,” Mahir said.

The focus on Pasmanda Muslims in the upcoming polls gains additional relevance considering the nuanced strategies employed by political leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's emphasis on the Pasmanda issue in recent months indicates a keen awareness of voting patterns in areas with significant Muslim populations.

This strategy aims to secure the crucial support of Pasmanda Muslims, potentially influencing the outcome of the elections.

Political analyst Girija Shanker, while acknowledging the PM’s statement from four months ago, remains sceptical about its significant impact on the current assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh. According to Shanker, a statement made several months ago, especially by the Prime Minister, who is viewed as a national figure, is unlikely to substantially influence the election results, especially in the absence of substantial efforts by the party to mobilise the community. Shanker also downplays the significance of Pasmanda Muslims within the broader Muslim community in Madhya Pradesh.

However, Anas from Barkatullah Youth Forum provides a different perspective, emphasising the inclusivity within the Muslim community in Madhya Pradesh. He contends that even ‘upper-caste’ Muslims in the state readily accept the leadership of Pasmanda Muslims.

Anas highlighted instances where OBC Muslim councillors won in areas predominantly inhabited by upper-caste Muslims and Vice Versa, Islampura being one of them, indicating the absence of caste discourse among Muslims in the state's political dynamics.