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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ISSUES

On devising a Muslim election strategy

By Rizwan Ullah

Power is energy, an enabling condition for survival. Power may or may not come from the barrel of the gun but it certainly does not come through begging. It does not drop in the begging bowl nor it is offered on a platter. It certainly comes through a workable strategy, masterminded in view of the requirements of the circumstances and implemented timely and vigorously. 

Speaking in the context of Muslim craving for their due share in power or their discontent over their falling much behind, as apparent from the declining number of their members in the representative bodies at the centre and in the states, it may be said that recurring elections in the country provide an opportunity to rectify the past mistakes and devise better strategies. But going through the past records it may be said that we have failed partly due to a faulty and unworkable strategy or due to a better and superior strategy by the forces working against our interests and everything that we stand for. However, the approaching elections in three important states in North India provide yet another opportunity to do the whole exercise afresh.

In any consideration for devising an election strategy for Muslims, one basic fact is generally overlooked: all Muslims do not have common interests, for instance the interests of a Muslim factory-owner will always be at variance with the interests of his Muslim employees. So they cannot agree on many points simply due to the fact of their belief in a common faith. Thus there are overwhelmingly large member of issues that are common to all without any reference to the faith. 

Again, speaking in Muslim perspective, the two states of Bihar and Jharkhand provide a comparatively comfortable political climate, if not an even playground which even otherwise cannot be expected in political field where foul play is the general norm. As a matter of strategy, bargaining would make the best bet, but where is the stock to bet with? The experience shows that we have never stood united for a success but have always shown up as a divided lot heading for a fall. True, small interests keep us divided, others too are not free from that shortcoming but with a difference. They, despite their rifts and drifts, can form sufficiently big groups powerful enough to effect a swing whereas we do not carry such a weight in any group form whatsoever. The failure to understand this fact prompts others to devise baits to trap us in groups and break up the force we could use for a push or a pull. There can never be an ideal situation where such things do not happen, but it can be managed through persistent coaching of the masses about the drawbacks of the split and benefits of united stand at every voting opportunity.

Reservation and proportional representation are sometimes suggested as measures for improving Muslim prospects. Such suggestions are full of drawbacks. Initially, when you are not properly represented who is going to raise your voice? Who is going to speak on your behalf? Even if it is done to an audible level next comes the stage of recognition and acceptance by others which you can never be sure of. Even more basic fact is that reservation or proportional representation, even if achieved, would be implemented in the matters of employment opportunities and admissions in academic institutions and those of higher learning and technical training. It will not work in the matters of elections and other affairs of party politics, for every party will be thinking in the light of the prospects of success. No party will stick to any formula of Muslim representation unless it fits into its scheme of poll victory. Thus it is no use wasting time and energy on pursuing a course which does not lead anywhere in the blind alley of election politics. Then the question stares at our faces, as it has always been: what is the course to be pursued? There is no short cut, it needs concentrated and concerted efforts by serious and sincere workers and leaders at all levels, the commodities least found in political fury.

We suffer not as much due to the state of being in a minority as due to our being in an unenviable position of second majority and the main majority being overwhelmingly big, cruel and unyielding on any issue. The antagonistic media is dominated by that majority which it must serve in its own interest. This combine makes things more difficult for us and any course more arduous. But a well established democratic system in the country and the elections for representative bodies accordingly provide smooth patches on the political pitch. So the very basic things our grassroots leaders should do is to impress upon voters the importance of their vote and urge them to cast their votes which is, apart from all other considerations, an affirmation of their existence. In the circumstances where, more or less, 50 percent votes are cast, an increase of Muslim votes may make a difference where narrow margins of ballots work effectively. Next comes the stage of choosing a preferable candidate. This is the responsibility of senior and seasoned leaders. They must guide the voters not for an immediate benefit but as a matter of long-term strategy for survival.

In any consideration for devising an election strategy for Muslims, one basic fact is generally overlooked: all Muslims do not have common interests, for instance the interests of a Muslim factory-owner will always be at variance with the interests of his Muslim employees. So they cannot agree on many points simply due to the fact of their belief in a common faith. Thus there are overwhelmingly large member of issues that are common to all without any reference to the faith. Personal interests will always prevail upon other considerations at the time of voting. So for a successful election strategy it is necessary to create an awareness in the masses about their interests in addition to the necessity for electing a Muslim candidate who will in the final analysis work for his constituency without any consideration for caste and creed. For him the policies of his party will have a binding effect. This leads to the conclusion that any Muslim aspirant for an elective position should chose his constituency and work assiduously and sincerely for his people who must be won over first of all.

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