Indian General Elections 2014
Muslims are in Dilemma: Whom to Vote
Dr. Mozammel Haque
Indian Muslims are in dilemma in casting their votes in the Indian General Elections 2014: whom to vote Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, Narendra Modi or the Congress Party candidate, Rahul Gandhi. In this write-up, I am going to analyse three aspects of the Indian elections vis-à-vis Muslim vote; firstly the different features of Muslim vote and how important and vital this is for this election. Secondly, the political parties and Muslims; in this election, there are mainly two principal political parties countrywide, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) verses the Congress Party and their Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Thirdly, I will also try to analyse the performances of these two parties and their Prime Ministerial candidates vis-à-vis the Muslim community. Finally, I would like to see what the Muslim community is thinking about casting their votes either individually or en bloc and to which party, the national party or regional party or individual candidate.
Muslim vote bank
Muslims are the single largest religious minority in the country. Other important minorities are Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. In a Hindu-dominated country, there are some 180 million Muslims out of India’s total population of more than 1.2 billion people. Being numerically the largest minority Muslims who constitute about 14 percent of India’s population, occupy the centre-stage in the agenda of all political parties. Their vote is of vital importance to the outcome of the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections for the world’s largest democracy, India. Because Muslim votes play a critical role in deciding electoral outcomes in at least 100 of the 543 parliamentary seats.
Muslims may be a minority country-wide, but they are a majority population in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in northernmost India and are about one-fourth of the population in the states of Assam, West Bengal and Kerala. In the electorally and politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), which alone accounts for a fifth of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha – Muslims constitute 18 percent of the population.
Jaythirth Rao, a spokesman for C-Voter, an election monitoring agency, told the Khabar South Asia that Muslims account for at least 30 percent of the electorate in 35 parliamentary districts across India. “What is crucial for all [political] parties to understand that apart from those 35 [districts], there are 183 others that have upwards of 11 percent Muslim votes,” Rao said.
According to Pollster and C-Voter editor, Yashwant Deshmukh, of the 543 constituencies that are going to the polls, Muslims constitute more than 30 percent of the population in 35 constituencies, 21-30 percent in 38, 11-20 percent in another 145, and fewer than 10 percent in 325 constituencies. (Sudha Ramachandran mentioned in her article on 3 April, 2014)
About the effects of Muslims vote, it is worth quoting from the article entitled “Muslim votes and its effects on the elections” by Yashwant Deshmukh published in India Today. Though the article was published on 23 September, 2013, it has brought out the significance of Muslims vote undoubtedly. Yashwant Deshmukh wrote in his article; “There are 180 million Muslims in India. Though the Election Commission does not give electoral roll estimates on religion, one can fairly estimate that in 218 Lok Sabha constituencies across India, Muslims have more than 10 per cent vote share. With parties actively wooing the Muslim vote, what impact will it have on General Elections 2014?”
Deshmukh mentioned, “In 150-odd seats across India, Muslims form more than 10 per cent of the vote share. It is enough to become a deciding factor in who they will vote for but not enough to trigger a counter-polarisation towards BJP among Hindu voters.”
“These are seats in which the margin of victory is less than 10 per cent. Oddly, these seats are packed in states where BJP is a nonentity. For example in Kerala, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orisha and Assam, it is the regional parties that are in direct competition with the Congress. But in order to defeat the Congress, they do need the critical mass of Muslim votes. That's why a majority of regional parties from these states would prefer to oppose Modi and BJP. It puts them on par with Congress,” he said.
Deshmukh also said, “The Muslim community's vote can decide MPs in approximately 220 Lok Sabha seats. These seats should not be confused with those where Muslim candidates win. There are only 30 Muslim MPs, roughly 6 per cent of the total number of MPs. This clearly is much less than their 14 per cent share of India's 1.2 billion populations.”
India’s Muslim minority could have a powerful impact on the elections. Who will they vote for?
Political Parties and Muslim community
As I mentioned earlier, there are mainly two principal political parties countrywide, BJP and the Congress. Besides these two parties, there are several regional parties, such as Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP); Janata Dal-Secular in Karnataka; Trinomol Congress (TMC) in Bengal and others, in the electoral fray.
The main contest in the elections is between the centre-left Congress Party, led by 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the BJP, led by the charismatic and controversial Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi, 63, the leader of Gujarat state, which witnessed one of India's worst anti-Muslim riots in 2002. Congress has ruled India for more than 50 of its 67 years of independence.
Muslims and the Congress Party: Historically speaking, Muslims cast their lot significantly with the Congress. They have been supporting the Congress Party ever since independence. In the early post-independence decades, it was the Congress Party that drew Muslim votes. Muslims have been a crucial part of the support base of the governing party, Indian National Congress, for years. But secular, regional parties emerged in the 1980s and 90s, and Muslims have voted for these parties as well. Dr. Sumit Ganguly, professor of political science and director of the Center for American and Global Security at the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies said in an interview, “in recent years, Muslims have also supported regional parties that have sprouted up across the country and which address their needs and concerns by varying degrees.”
Muslims and secular and regional parties: So far as the Muslim votes for the secular and regional parties are concerned, in Uttar Pradesh, for instance, Muslims vote for the Congress, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In Karnataka, they have voted for the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular. It is in Uttar Pradesh that the power of the Muslim vote has repeatedly been in evidence. Muslims rallied behind the BSP in the 2007 state assembly elections and the SP in the 2012 elections, contributing significantly to these parties forming governments on their own, noted Deshmukh. In the 2009 general elections, they voted ‘tactically’ in the state ‘to help the best possible candidates from SP, BSP and Congress win against BJP.”
Muslims and the BJP: So far the Muslim votes for the BJP are concerned, Muslims preferred to vote for the secular party than the communal Hindutva party, BJP. For example, as reported in India Today, in recent assembly elections in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Congress grabbed 6.2 percent of the total Muslim vote, trouncing BJP’s 18.6 percent showing. In Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan states, Congress scored 42.4 percent and 55.6 percent of the Muslim electorate, respectively, versus 18.6 percent and 15.5 percent votes, for BJP. (In all three aforementioned states, Congress fared poorly among the whole public.)
Muslims and Narendra Modi: The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, is widely blamed for fanning the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry during sectarian riots in his native Gujarat in 2002 and which ultimately killed more than 1,200 people. Modi has denied any culpability at all, but he was widely condemned for failing to use his authority to prevent the killings.
Samrah Fatima wrote in Deutsche Welle: “Sanjay Kumar, a leading expert on elections in India, points out that Muslims' concerns about the BJP go back even further. The destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992 by thousands of right wing Hindu activists, including BJP supporters, traumatized many Muslims. Over 2000 Muslims lost their lives in the riots which followed the demolition of the mosque. Many key BJP leaders are still facing trial for their alleged role in the incident that took place in the city of Ayodhya, which many Hindus believe to be the mythological birth place of Lord Rama, one of the most popular figures in Hinduism.”
Muslims, Political parties and Governments
Before we analyse how Muslims will vote in the elections 2014; it is essential to know Muslims’ experience under different governments till today.
Narendra Modi Government
So far as the BJP and its Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is concerned: not only Muslims even secular people will ever forget the horrible riots in Gujarat in 2002 when Narendra Modi was the chief minister.
Commenting on the Muslims’ perception of the BJP, Dr. Sudha Ramachandran, an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore, India, wrote in The Diplomat, “Muslims have always perceived the BJP (and its forerunner, the Jana Sangh) as an anti-Muslim party. Indeed, the BJP and its fraternal organizations espouse Hindutva, an ideology that regards India as a Hindu nation, and Muslims and Christians as populations to be violently co-opted or assimilated into the nation, or else expunged as foreign elements. This ideology has manifested itself in an array of ways, including calls for a Uniform Civil Code, the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992 and anti-Muslim violence as in Mumbai in 1992-93 and Gujarat in 2002.”
The violence in Gujarat remains deeply engraved in the Muslim memory. A. Faizur Rahman, an independent Islamic researcher and Secretary-General of the Chennai-based Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought told The Diplomat, “It will be difficult for Muslims as well as secular Hindus to forget the 2002 riots or to absolve Modi of any moral responsibility.”
Congress-led UPA Government
With Muslims unlikely to vote for the BJP in great numbers, the question remains as to whom they will vote for. Many Muslims are very disappointed with the current Congress-led government. A deep sense of powerlessness rules the Muslim psyche. The octogenarian founder-secretary of the Gandhi Sangrahalaya (Museum) in Patna, Razi Ahmed, said, “Right from independence, every political party, most of all the Congress, has done injustice and beimani (cheating). Now even the BJP wants Muslim votes, since it is a solid 17 percent.”
Samrah Fatima, writing in Deutsche Welle, said in her essay: a similar voice of dissatisfaction and hopelessness can be heard in Nadeem’s voice as he says, “Nobody has ever done anything for Muslims in this country since independence. Everyone promises the same. It wouldn’t surprise me if the new government also forgot that Muslims are also part of this country.”
"Muslims have always been neglected and used as a ‘vote bank’ by political parties. Nobody has delivered on their promises made for the community," Ahmed Bukhari, chief Imam and Khateeb of Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) agency. "All political parties are harmful and we have to choose the one which is least harmful for us as there is no time left for us form [our own] political party.”
That is in general the Muslims’ hopelessness about the performance of the past governments since independence. Let us see how the government under the Congress Party performed. Shahid Siddiqui, editor, Nai Duniya, an Urdu Weekly and a former Rajya Sabha MP, wrote in his article “Hard Choices, grim facts”: “Muslims had lost faith in the Congress after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the terrible Mumbai riots that followed. However, the NDA rule of six years and the failure of the ‘secular’ third front made them look again at the Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. They believed she would be much more sympathetic to their plight and unlike past Congress leaders, would not use them as a mere vote bank. The UPA I, with its promise of implementing the Sachar Committee recommendations, gave them some hope. In 2009, Muslims by and large voted for the Congress hoping that concrete steps would be taken for their uplift.”
According to a survey report, when one goes through the Sachar Committee report of 2006, the Muslim community is revealed with extreme deprivation. The Muslims in India and the low status the community has been relegated to, coupled with other exclusionary situations of violence, insecurity, identity crisis, discrimination in the public sphere, suspicion from other communities. Similarly a report by the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission, which came out in 2007, further emphasised the deplorable condition of Indian Muslims on socio-economic indicators and strengthened the findings, arguments and recommendations of the Sachar Committee report.
Annie Gowen wrote in her article in The Washington Post: “A 2006 government panel explored the plight of Muslims in India and issued wide-ranging recommendations to help them, such as creating an equal-opportunity commission, providing financial help for the self-employed and making sure Muslim children were enrolled in government-run schools. But few of the recommendations have been carried out, according to Abusaleh Shariff, the economist who wrote the report. He is now executive director of the U.S.-India Policy Institute in Washington. “In practically all indicators, the Muslim community in India — in economic, social and political standing — are worse off than the average population,” Shariff said. For example, the literacy rate among Muslims is 55 percent, far below that of the rest of the country, he said.””
Muslims in Bengal are worst off on every count. Shoaib Daniyal mentioned in his article on Bengal’s Muslim Vote, “as the Sachar committee’s report has pointed out, Muslims in Bengal are worse off on every count than their counterparts in most other states, as a result of which, the report puts the state in the “worst-performer category”.
As I mentioned earlier, the elaborate studies and recommendations of government appointed panels — Justice Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra Commission — remain on paper. The Mishra Commission and Sachar Committee reports have not been implemented. On the other hand, hundreds of innocent Muslims have been languishing in jails across the country as terrorists or being summarily dealt with as Ishrat Jahan, Qateel Siddiqui, Khalid Mujahid and others have been.
Amitabh Kundu, a professor at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and chairman of a government committee which has evaluated the situation of Muslims in India, told Deutsche Welle: "Given the very limited performance of the present government in the last five to six years in the context of improving the situation of the Muslims in the country, I feel there will be some level of dissatisfaction because the Muslims certainly expected a lot."
“The Congress-led government's failure to adequately address the aspirations of Muslims is likely to drive them into the arms of other regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Janta Dal and the recently created new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party,” Professor Kundu envisaged.
Futuristic of Muslim Vote
Shahid Siddiqui, editor of Nai Duniya, an Urdu weekly and a former Rajya Sabha MP said what the Muslims are thinking about their votes. Siddiqui said at the moment, there are, broadly speaking, five views among Muslims. I am reproducing the five views as follows: “The first is the traditional view that Muslims have no option but to vote for the Congress in order to stop the BJP from coming to power. This view holds that only the Congress can protect the minorities.”
“The second view is that, in the name of secularism, Muslims have been taken for a ride for too long. Muslims want secularism but they also want jobs, education and security. Therefore, they should look for an alternative to these parties. Since there cannot be a national alternative, they will have to look for state-wise alternatives like the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the BSP in Uttar Pradesh or the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.
“The third view is that Muslims should get out of this vote-bank syndrome and vote for individual candidates. In any constituency, a good, relatively honest and secular candidate, whichever party he or she may belong to, should be identified and voted for. This was the view earlier espoused by leaders like Syed Shahabuddin.
“The fourth view is that Muslims should form a Muslim Democratic Alliance — a confederation of Muslim and minority parties. They should work for the consolidation of the Muslim vote, BSP style, and then bargain with other groups and parties for an alliance. This alliance should be secular and nationalistic in outlook but should focus on the problems of minorities. The common masses are eager to see this coming together of all Muslim parties.
“The fifth view is that Muslims should get out of this secular-communal divide and try the BJP for a change. A small but growing section of Muslims argues that in reality there is no difference among all these parties. They believe that ‘secular’ parties will also take them seriously only when they start voting for a national political alternative, which can only be the NDA, as even the Left doesn’t take the talk of a third alternative seriously,” Siddiqui wrote.
Muslim Electoral Declaration
There is another viewpoint about the using of the Muslim vote. This viewpoint came from 32 leading Muslims of India hailing from 18 states assembled in National Sports Club of India, New Delhi and made the following declaration before a large number of representatives of the print and electronic media.
“During the last four and a half years, except partly amending the Waqf law, the UPA Government at the centre has not taken any institutional measure for the long term welfare of Muslims, while at least twenty vital works are pending for long. In those states where UPA parties are ruling the Mishra Commission and Sachar Committee reports have not been implemented.
“During the last one and a half years, in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Government has not fulfilled a single electoral promise made to the Muslims. Neither it granted reservation to Muslims nor did it implement the Sachar Committee’s recommendations. Rather, it failed to preempt or control the mass violence committed in Muzaffarnagar against Muslims.
“On the other hand, through a PowerPoint presentation made at Ahmedabad on 29 June 2013 in a program of Sri Narendra Modi, the reasons of Muslims’ mass displeasure with BJP were eloquently narrated.
“Thus, during the upcoming elections, Muslims would like to vote for carefully selected independent candidates and national and state level parties other than BJP, Samajwadi Party and UPA and its allies.”
Muslim Electoral Declaration asked those national and state level parties and independent candidates who are looking for Muslim votes to write on their letterheads to the Muslim organizations, promising to do 20 Works for Muslims within the demanded timeframe. (Muslim Electoral Declaration gave the list of those 20 Works for Muslims in its website)
From the above it transpires that Muslim leaders and thinkers are in agreement to vote for Congress in those areas where there are no other strong regional parties competing the BJP. Muslim organizations are “urging voters to back the Congress in one constituency, AAP in another, the SP in the third and so on, depending on who is best placed to defeat the BJP,” A. Fazlur Rahman said to The Diplomat.
An appeal was made to the Muslims by BSP chief Mayawati, to check division of their votes. “If Muslim votes are divided no one would be able to stop the BJP from coming to power at the centre,” she said.
This Indian election in 2014 is very crucial and critical for those people who believe in secular democracy, particularly for Muslim and secular Indians. For the survival of India as an inclusive, secular democracy, the bottom-line appears to be that Muslims will vote for secular candidates, who are most likely to defeat communal ones. Chief Imam and Khateeb of Jama Masjid in Delhi, Ahmed Bukhari, urged the Muslim community to cast their votes in favour of the Congress Party.
06 May 2014