The outcome of the Kairana Lok Sabha bypoll on Thursday has been interpreted in many ways: a reversal for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an exhaustion with Hindutva politics, Narendra Modi's waning appeal, and the impact of a united opposition in the 2019 general election.
All that remains in the realm of speculation.
What actually happened was that Tabassum Hasan, a 47-year-old woman, won the election to become the only Muslim lawmaker from Uttar Pradesh in Lok Sabha.
In 2014, for the first time since independence, no Muslim from UP was elected to the 16th Lok Sabha.
UP's 38.4 million Muslims, over 19 percent of India's most populous state, will finally have one representative in the lower house of Parliament. Given that the general election is next year, Hasan's time in power could be short, but her victory has marginally ameliorated the political isolation of the state's Muslim community.
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After Muslims had felt so "neglected, insulted and isolated," in the part four years, Syeda Hameed, a women's right activist, and a former member of the Planning Commission of India, said that Hasan's entry to the Lok Sabha was "landmark, watershed and a turning point."
Referring to there not being a single Muslim in the Lok Sabha from UP, she said, "You can see why the Muslim community has felt to isolated and so rejected."
The fact that the BJP has suffered defeat at the hands of a Muslim woman is likely to irk the ruling party. The BJP has, after all, devoted considerable time to its campaign against triple talaq, which was ostensibly aimed at Muslim women voters in the 2017 Assembly election.
Despite claiming to care about Muslim women, the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in the state Assembly polls. Out of the nearly 100 Muslim candidates that Mayawati's Bahujan Party fielded to forge a Dalit-Muslim alliance, only five won.
In all, 24 Muslims, another 17 from the Samajwadi Party and two from the Congress, were elected to the 404 member assembly. Fourteen of them had retained their seats. None of them were women.
Muslim representation went down from 17.1 percent in 2012, which was proportional to its population, to 5.9 percent in 2017.
Muslim women in Lok Sabha
Hasan will join two other Muslim women in the Lok Sabha, Sajda Ahmed from the All India Trinamool Congress and Mausam Noor from the Congress. Lok Sabha presently has 65 Muslim members, the highest ever, constituting 11 percent of the House.
Of the 549 women members in the first to the 15th Lok Sabha, only 18 have been Muslim. There have been six sessions without a single Muslim woman, while the highest number of lawmakers has been three, in the 6th, 8th and 15th sessions. Hasan's joining the 16th Lok Sabha will make it the fourth.
An exhibition that she organised recently at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, Hameed said, had featured 21 path breaking Muslim women, including MLAs and MPs elected in the elections that followed independence.
"Muslim women have rarely been given a chance, and when they do get a chance, it is from an unwinnable seat," she said. "This is significant because Kairana was much contested."
A whole lot of help
Hasan, who won the Kairana by-poll by 44,618 seats, had the backing of a united opposition.
Out of the 15 lakh voters in Kairana, an estimated 5.2 lakh Muslim voters constitute the largest chunk of the electorate.
While she ran on a ticket from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), a party which has traditionally enjoyed the support of farmers in the region, Hasan had the backing of Akhilesh Yadav's SP and the BSP. The Congress Party did not field a candidate to avoid splitting the vote.
Hasan, who has studied till class 10, hails from one of the most influential families in the western UP.
Hasan's husband, Chaudhary Munawwar Hasan, who died in a road accident in 2008, has represented Kairana in the Assembly and in Lok Sabha, and, in 2004, he won the Lok Sabha seat from Muzaffarnagar for the SP.
Hasan won the Kairana seat on a BSP ticket in the 2009 general election. Her son, Nihad Hasan, who ran for the Samajwadi Party, lost the seat to BJP's Humkum Singh in 2014.
Singh, who won by over two lakh votes during the Modi wave, had floated the (disproved) theory of the Hindu exodus from Kairana.
In 2017, Nihad became the MLA from Kairana. In 2018, Hasan beat Hukum Singh's daughter, Mriganka Singh.
"Kairana victory will infuse a fresh vigour in the proposed grand alliance and it will surely change the direction of politics in 2019. I will try to end communal hatred and bitterness among the people," she said.
Hasan's victory is being hailed as a coming together of Hindus and Muslims against the polarization done by the BJP. This assessment, however, is debatable.
A study published in the Hindustan Times today shows that the united opposition got very few votes from the non-Dalit and non-Muslim voters, suggesting that the non-Dalit Hindu population is still behind the BJP.
While counting on the votes of upper-caste Brahmins and Other Backwards Classes like the Kashyaps, Sainis and Prajapatis, the BJP had tried its best to make this a straight Hindu-Muslim fight.
Given the large number of Muslim voters, the anger of Jat farmers over the sugarcane crisis, the party was aware that its chances were slim unless Hindus voted for them irrespective of caste.
The alliance was confident of getting votes from the Muslims, Dalits and perhaps even the Jats, who, in 2014 and 2017, had voted for the BJP, but are currently furious at the state's BJP government over the non-payment of sugarcane dues.
Hasan's victory, in part, depended on whether the RLD could transfer Jat votes on to a Muslim candidate. It had managed in the past, but that was before the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 had polarised western UP.
Getting Jats to vote for a Muslim woman candidate in 2018 was seen as a test for Ajit Singh, RLD's founder and leader. As one Jat farmer in Lisad village said," I'm angry with the BJP, but I don't want to vote for a Muslim. I feel like I will go into the polling station to vote for the RLD but then I won't be able to vote for a Muslim."
Another farmer told his brother, "You are not voting for a Muslim, you are voting for Ajit Singh. Will you remember that?"
What it could mean
Naish Hasan, a women's rights activist in Lucknow, who has dedicated her life to ending triple talaq, is not impressed by Hasan, but she gives tremendous weight to the result in Kairana.
On the one hand, Naish described the newly elected lawmaker as being at the right place, at the right time and from the right family.
And on the other, the women rights activist said that the Kairana by-poll mattered because voters had voted against the non-performance of the BJP.
"The most significant thing is that the Jats voted for an issue, sugarcane, not over the religion of the candidate," she said. "This is how a democracy should work."
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