Muslim Vote Bank and Indian Elections 2014
Dr. Mozammel Haque
The 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections for the world’s largest democracy, India, will be held in nine phases from 7 April to 12 May, 2014. The nine phase vote began on Monday, 7 April and will conclude on 12 May and votes will be counted on 16 May, 2014. The total number of voters for this election is 815 million who are to cast their ballots in 120 constituencies across 12 states, from the occupied Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir to the southern state of Karnataka. More than 8 million police, paramilitary security personnel have been deployed across the country to ensure the smooth polling in the world's biggest ever election. This election is important in many respects.
First of all, the country’s Muslim vote is considered vital. Muslims are the single largest religious minority in the country. Other important minorities are Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Being numerically the largest minority, Muslims, who constitute about 14 percent of India’s total population of more than 1.2 billion people, occupy the centre-stage in the agenda of all political parties. But Muslims are deeply suspicious of Narendra Modi, the Prime Ministerial candidate, because of riots in his home state of Gujarat just over a decade ago in 2002. Muslims fear that if Modi becomes Prime Minister, he will drive a wedge as steely as the barrier in Varanasi between religious groups in India, a predominantly Hindu but officially secular democracy.
Muslim Population, Constituencies and Muslim votes
In a Hindu-dominated country, as mentioned earlier, there are some 180 million Muslims (including youths, who cannot vote); they make up 14 per cent of India’s population. The Muslim vote is of vital importance to the outcome of the elections because Muslim votes play a critical role in deciding electoral outcomes in at least 100 of the 543 parliamentary seats. Political parties understand that the Muslim community will have a considerable impact on their electoral fortunes.
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 clearly. 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?”
“There is a decisive Muslim vote of more than 20 per cent in 70-odd seats where there will be a counter-polarisation of Hindu votes. This will help BJP in any election divided on communal lines,” he said.
Deshmukh also 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 population.”
India’s Muslim minority could have a powerful impact on the elections. Who will they vote for?
Muslims and Political parties
Historically, Muslim community have been supporting the Congress Party. 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 cast their lot significantly with the Congress. 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.)
So far the Muslim vote 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.”
So how will Muslims vote in General Election 2014? Before I analyse the General Elections 2014, it is essential to know how Muslims were rewarded when it comes to their political representation, or in other words, what is the position of Muslim community, both politically and economically.
Muslim voting pattern and
their political representation
Politically speaking, this pattern of Muslim voting has not yielded great rewards. They have very little political representation in the Parliament. Political representation of the community is not very encouraging either. Despite being a huge minority, they have not been able to translate it into proportional representation. There are only 30 (six percent) Muslim MPs in the Lok Sabha. In 2009, 20 States did not elect a single Muslim MP (India Today, March 17, 2014).
Shoaib Daniyal writing about Bengal Muslim’s vote bank, mentioned, “The current Lok Sabha has only 5.5% Muslim MPs as compared to 13.4% Muslims in India. There are 19 states and six Union territories with no Muslim MPs, one rather egregarious example of that being Maharashtra, which has a significant 14% Muslim population. The SP, a party which ostensibly represents Muslim interests, does not have a single Muslim Member of Parliament. Apart from this, parties Muslims choose are also, more often than not, unable to respond to their primary needs: security of life and property, and economic development.”
There is a sense of mistrust and dissatisfaction among the Muslim community. 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.” He is convinced that the population of Muslims in Bihar, and across India, is much more than estimated by the Census. “They deliberately keep our numbers low; I estimate the Muslim population in both Bihar and across India to be 20-22 percent.”
Writing about the Muslims vote play a key role in India’s elections, Samrah Fatima mentioned about the prevailing mistrust and hopelessness among the Muslim community. She wrote 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.”
Plight of Muslims in India
Muslims sense of mistrust and powerlessness is not only due to lack of proportional political participation but also due to their economic situation. Recent reports revealed their deplorable condition and backwardness. According to a survey report, the Muslims are the second largest religious community in the country but 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.”
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.
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”.
“Muslims occupy only 4% of government jobs and only 5% of ‘key positions’ in the judiciary. The government expenditure on the community is less than that on SC/STs, although Muslims are worse off. Mamata’s “poriborton” also hasn’t changed things much, continuing this superficial tokenism while ignoring real issues. For example, one of the TMC’s major “pro-Muslim” moves, since coming to power, is the instituting of a “bhata” or stipend to imams and muezzins,” Daniyal mentioned.
This is the situation of Muslims in India in spite of their Muslim vote bank. One important thing which analysts think is the fact that that they have no political party. The only large social group which does not have a party, are the Muslims, who depend on several other caste parties across various states.
Under the circumstances, it is very important to know what the Muslim politicians, Muslim intellectuals, Muslim think-tank and religious leaders are thinking about their future and how they are going to use their electoral power in General Election 2014? Whether they are going to use their old strategy casting votes for the Congress party or the regional parties or individual candidate? How will the Muslim votes be used as a Muslim vote bank en masse or divisively? It is very important to see the impact of the Muslim vote on the current election results; because Muslims form an indelible and an important component of the idea of India which is plural, multicultural, liberal and democratic in nature.