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Published in the 16-30 Jun 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Myths about Muslim voting 
By Shamsul Islam

In the history of independent India, Parliamentary elections for the 14th Lok Sabha were no ordinary or routine polls as this time the future of a democratic secular India was on stake. Indian democracy had lived through 13 Parliamentary elections before this one which was so far the most high-tech affair fought with aggressive and hot-blooded war cries and finally led to stunning results. There is no denying the fact that in no other parliamentary elections the Indian electorate was confronted by such fundamental and crucial problems which had besieged this country in the last five and a half years rule of the Hindutva gang. The Indian voter this time has given a decisive mandate against the politics of religion, pauperization of the common people and subjugation of the nation to the US-led totalitarian world order, forsaking the country's honour and independence.

Importantly, shrill prophesies of the biased media, political analysts and omnipresent experts on TV screens claimed that the Indian electorate swayed by the 'India Shining' campaign was bound to vote for the RSS-led BJP. But the Indian voters proved that they were not willing to play into the hands of the Hindutva gang. The common voters of this country, reducing the pro-Hindutva intellectuals into clowns, have shown that they might not be sufficiently expressive and sophisticated, may not enjoy significance in the corridors of power and stock exchanges, yet they do not duck from the challenge when it comes to decide the fate of this country. The Indian electorate has proved once again that it waits for the right moment and intervenes decisively when faced by a crisis such as presented by the Hindutva politics. The most crucial message of the 2004 mandate is that nobody can be allowed to play mischief with the democratic, secular and humanistic heritage of the Indian society.

This mandate is a powerful message to organizations like RSS, which claim to be the true inheritors of the Savarkarite legacy, from a pre-dominantly Hindu electorate that it did not endorse the conspiratorial designs of the Hindutva gang of converting India into a theocratic state. But it is not only the Hindutva gang which has been shown its place in the Elections 2004 but also the parasitic and spineless 'Muslim' leadership. The just concluded elections have not only thoroughly exposed a certain brand of 'Muslim' leadership but also proved the hollowness of a few myths which have been created about the Muslim voting behavior.

According to myth one, Muslims vote as per the diktats of religious leaders and mosques play a fundamental role in determining their voting behavior. The second myth revolves round the fact that Muslims vote collectively for candidates of their choice. The third myth, an extension of the second myth, is 'tactical' voting by Muslim electorate is of recent origin (coined by "specialists" of the Muslim politics in India) and claims that Muslims collectively decide about the final choice of the candidate on the day of voting, polling all their votes en-masse in favour of the candidate who is sure to win against RSS/BJP candidate.

Let us scrutinize the myth one. Before doing it we must take note of a few facts about the 'Muslim' leadership. The fundamental characteristic of the 'Muslim' leadership that grew like wild mushrooms in the post-Independence India has been that it mainly depended on State patronage for its survival having no roots in the community which it claimed to represent. The Indian state ruled by Indian National Congress needed a ceremonial brand of 'Muslim' leadership which could fit into its kind of secularism. We had an interesting scenario in which 'Muslim' leadership and ruling party both had a marriage of convenience. The 'Muslim' leadership needed State largesse for its parasitic existence and in turn Congress as ruling party needed them for not raising real problems of the community and constantly behaving as good old boys. The mainstream 'Muslim' leadership had become an appendage of the ruling Congress party and relied solely on its financial and political support. When it found that Congress had lost power and RSS/BJP-led formation was destined to rule the country, it had no qualms about jumping on to the Hindutva bandwagon, as it could not survive without the State patronage. This is proved by the beeline which 'Muslim' leadership made to join the Hindutva outfit. When it seemed that the RSS/BJP was going to come back to power, Imams, sajaddanasheens, ulama, muftis and outfits of maulvis came out in open support of the former. The country witnessed a flood of 'Support BJP' committees (Himayat committees) formed and led by some Muslim leaders. Imam of Delhi's historic Jama Masjid, junior Bukhari, publicly asked Muslims to vote for RSS/BJP and its NDA friends. Jamiat-ul-Ulama, an old appendage of Congress but convinced this time round of the RSS/BJP victory, was seen hobnobbing with RSS/BJP, especially in Assam.

Indian Muslims as responsible voters refused to follow the directives and religious calls of this self-serving lot. They refused to support the fascist Hindutva gang which was publicly committed to convert India into a fascist and theocratic state. How disdainfully Muslim voters treated these overtures of 'Muslim' leadership to the Hindutva gang can be guaged from some of the election results. The Chandni Chowk parliamentary constituency in Delhi where Jama Masjid is situated, has substantial Muslim population. Despite the directive of the Imam of Jama Masjid to vote for RSS/BJP, its candidate a popular TV star secured only 47978 votes, the minimum ever secured in history by any candidate sponsored by Hindutva camp in this prestigious parliamentary constituency. Elsewhere, Arif Mohammed Khan and Shahnawaz Hussain who had the backing of pro-Hindutva Muslim clergy lost badly in their constituencies.

This election has also proved as absolute hoax the other two myths as well. Muslim voting figures make it abundantly clear that the Muslim electorate has neither voted en-bloc nor indulged in 'tactical' voting. Surprisingly, no propounder of the myth of 'tactical' voting is willing to tell us how come on this earth Muslim electorate would know that a particular kind of candidate is "winnable". It needs superhuman intelligence, and how erratic such an exercise can be is demonstrated by the terrible fate of prophesies which were churned out by dozens of pre- and post-poll surveys. It is certain that a largely illiterate Muslim electorate could not have improved upon these slick psephologists. That the myth of 'tactical' voting is a lie can be understood by going through the results in Amroha (UP) where Mahmood Madani of Rashtriya Lok Dal (269638 votes) and Aley Hasan of BSP (168698 votes) both lost and an independent Harish Nagpal won as Muslim votes were divided between the two Muslim stalwarts!. It is still debatable if these Muslim candidates did not get Hindu votes and if Nagpal received no Muslim votes.

However, the real issue is whether Muslims vote en-bloc. The Muslim electorate is as divided as the electorate of any other community on different issues. This myth also remains a hoax in the light of facts available about the last elections. Let us take the example of Manjeri constituency in Kerala which is considered a citadel of the Muslim League with about 75 percent Muslim voters. In these elections ML candidate, KPA Majeed (379177 votes) lost to CPM candidate, TK Hamza (426920 votes). It proved that Muslim votes were in nobody's pocket. It can further be seen in case of few other constituencies of western UP where Muslim votes have significant presence. In Saharanpur, Rasheed Masood of SP who won securing 353272 votes while Mansoor Ali Khan (326444 votes) of BSP lost. Despite this crucial split, the BJP candidate remained as number three. The same story was repeated in Shahabad where Muslim votes seemed to have got split between Ilyas Azmi of BSP (210171 votes) and Babu Khan of SP (156574 votes) keeping the BJP candidate at number three again. These figures prove that Muslim voters are too divided on subjective considerations and do not favour any single candidate.

It is pertinent here to know why such myths about Muslim voting pattern remain in currency. The thesis that Muslims are a monolithic whole with no diversity of life and ideas, and therefore a community to be feared and despised for being dangerous, suits both the Hindutva and the 'Muslim' leadership. For Hindutva, the country must be cleansed of such dangerous elements and for 'Muslim' leadership such portrayal of Muslims will keep them in business. Unfortunately, political parties including the secular ones have been relying on these 'Muslim' agents to interact with Muslim masses without bothering to know about their real plight and aspirations. However, the elections 2004 have dealt a severe blow to this discourse, which may pave way for a prosperous Muslim community and prosperous India. Of course, it can happen only when the Indian political system too shows the maturity which Muslim electorate has shown in the just concluded elections.

Shamsul Islam is reader in political science at Satyawati College, Delhi University

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