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Published in the 1-15 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Price of Muslim votes

Democracy is built on a typical business model. Politicians want your votes. In return they promise you goodies. The model differs in how these votes are valued and pursued. Politicians pursue groups of votes, known as vote-banks, instead of individual voters. Some parties go for larger groups while others who have locked enough groups to match their competitors and need only little help aggressively pursue smaller groups.

Of all these vote banks, minority vote bank has been one of the hottest topics of political discussion in the last decade or so. Before the rise of BJP, all political parties followed pretty much similar ideology based upon socialism and secularism. Competing in the same political space forced them to look for more help and minority vote bank was up for grabs with the decline of Congress. VP Singh announced Prophet Mohammedís birthday as a holiday from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Mulayam Singh pursued Muslim votes so aggressively that he was termed Maulana Mulayam. BSP stands for alliance between SC/ST and Muslims. As a matter of fact, minority appeasement is one of the major complaint of the majority against pseudo-secular parties.

If one looks at the minority appeasement through the saffron prism, it does look as though they are being paid a very high price for their votes often at the expense of the majority. But are they really? What have political parties, who are accused of minority appeasement, really paid for minority votes? There is no reservation in jobs, no help with education and no program for the social and economic advancement of minorities. Even the genuine complaints e.g. controlling communal riots do not get a second hearing. Most of the Muslim neighborhoods lack good roads, proper sanitary work, regular electric supply etc. A walk in any Muslim neighborhood begs the question: what are they getting for their votes?

In any business transaction both sides want to pay as little as possible for the maximum possible return. Politics is no different. If you donít know the value of your commodity, you are bound to lose at the barter. The state of the minority vote-bank is just that. It is like a kid whose parents have sent him with commodity to the market. But he neither knows the value of his goods nor does he know what he wants in return. Thus he is cheated by all and sundry.
In the past, Muslims wanted protection of the Babri mosque, continuation of personal laws and freedom to practice their religion. They enjoyed it so far but at the cost of increased communalism. Now the first is gone, the second will soon be gone and if the trend continues, the existence of the third will be in danger as well. Instead of learning from their mistakes, minority politics has taken a turn for the worse. With the rise of BJP, now they are happy if someone as much as utters the word "secularism". Today, the Muslim community is willing to gift their votes to anyone who promises to beat the BJP.

Negativism and defeatism always lead to self-destruction. Muslims need to be realistic. Communal riots have happened in non-BJP governments as well and Muslims have been at the receiving end in those states as well. Instead of thinking about defeating BJP, they should be thinking about their own advancement. Instead of tactical voting, Muslim leaders should be emphasizing practical voting. Muslim community needs educational opportunities in professional fields not help to madarsas. It needs economic opportunities not Haj subsidies. Muslims need security apparatus not another non-BJP government. But politicians are not going to offer these on their own. The community will have to take the lead in making its demands. They should be asking politicians what specific programs they have to help minorities with education and employment, not just slogans. Instead of falling for a non-BJP government, they should be asking about specific actions to protect Muslims during communal riots. These issues have to be raised, if we expect any solution to our problems.

The political discussion within the Muslim community should be issue-based and not personality-based. We should not be deceived by names like Mulayam, Gandhi or Vajpayee. These are used as a smokescreen to distract us from the real issues. Issue based politics will force all political parties to address the real problems. Whoever presents a comprehensive program to solve the problems should be considered irrespective of political affiliation. If our votes are really as valuable as others claim, lets demand a reasonable price for that. 

Zaigham  Kazmi, U.S.

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