Analysis

Maharashtra Politics & Muslims

It is yet too early to say whether communal card is not likely to be used again in Maharashtra politics. Definitely, a lot more is at stake in Maharashtra assembly elections than just the impact of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political campaign. Each of the five key parties in the fray is hopeful of benefiting from its political gamble. What is perhaps most intriguing is the manner in which Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its former ally, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) seem to have almost reversed the political strategy that they earlier depended for long. The symbolic change in these parties’ strategy is marked by their granting tickets to Muslim candidates. This partly displays their attempt to turn their back towards the communal card they have tried using earlier in Maharashtra.

Besides, it is possible that electoral shocks received by BJP in the recent assembly bypolls have forced it to change its strategy, that is to abandon the communal card at least for now. In the very states, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, BJP had swept in parliamentary elections only last May, it now lost 13 of the 23 assembly seats held by it. Major electoral blows received by BJP also proved that the Modi-wave cannot be always relied upon by this party, particularly in assembly elections. The same point was proved earlier by BJP’s poor performance in assembly bypolls held earlier in Bihar, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Not surprisingly, analysts had begun deliberating on whether Modi-magic was fading.

Politically, it is intriguing that former allies have chosen to part ways and contest Maharashtra assembly elections separately. Having failed to reach an agreement on seat sharing, BJP and Shiv Sena are fighting separately. This also suggests that Shiv Sena is more confident about its own political hold in Maharashtra than of Modi-wave’s impact. It is for the first time since 1989 that BJP and Shiv Sena are fighting Maharashtra assembly elections separately. Allied earlier, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) too have split to contest these polls separately. The fifth key party in the fray is MNS.  

Each party apparently is counting on its success in rival parties’ creating a dent in each other’s vote banks. For instance, Congress is hopeful of gaining on division in vote banks caused by BJP, Shiv Sena and MNS fighting separately. Similarly, BJP and Shiv Sena hope to gain by splitting of votes earlier held by the alliance of Congress and NCP.

Without doubt, Modi has started dominating Indian media-waves again. This is marked by notable coverage given by Indian media to his US visit, which was barely noticed by American media itself. Modi followed this by picking up the broom stick, marking Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary (Oct 2), as a part of his “Clean India” mission. Backed by “news” favouring him, Modi began aggressive campaigning for assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana.  

The vote bank in Maharashtra which is expected to see considerable division is that of Muslims, who form around 13.4 per cent of the state’s population. Forty-five Muslim candidates constitute 3.3 per cent of the total candidates fielded. For 288-member Maharashtra assembly, the total number of candidates fielded by five major parties is 1,356. In 2009, the candidates fielded were 705, 19 of whom were Muslims. Compared to rival parties, maximum Muslim candidates - 19 have been fielded by Congress. In 2009, in alliance with NCP, Congress had contested on 170 seats and had given tickets to 12 Muslims. During the same year, NCP had fielded four Muslims from the 113 seats it had contested in alliance with Congress. In the present election scenario, NCP has given tickets to 16 Muslims.

There is nothing surprising about the increase in the number of Muslim candidates fielded by Congress and NCP. The same opinion cannot be held about similar attempts made by rival parties. Compared to one Muslim candidate fielded by BJP in 2009, it has given tickets to two Muslims this time.  Shiv Sena fielded one Muslim in 2009 and has fielded only one again. This time, MNS has fielded seven Muslim candidates, compared to one in 2009 assembly polls.

Of candidates battling from Malegaon constituency, 17 are Muslims. The only non-Muslim candidate Rajesh Mangu More has been fielded by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In 2009, Mufti Ismail Abdul Khaliq won elections as a Jan Surajya Shakti party candidate. This time, he has been fielded from here by NCP.

The outgoing Maharashtra assembly has 11 Muslim members, five from Congress, three-Samajwadi Party (SP), two-NCP and one from Jan Surajya Shakti party. In 2009 elections, these Muslim legislators defeated BJP and Shiv Sena at six constituencies, Congress at two, Independent candidates at two and MNS at one.

The current political scenario in Maharashtra, marked by increase in number of Muslim candidates fielded by rival parties conveys one message strongly. Even the most extremist communal parties have tacitly accepted that to hold power in the state assembly, they have no option but to try and reach out to the Muslim voters and power seekers!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2014 on page no. 11

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