Modi-wave & Muslim vote

Not too long ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke praising the patriotism of Indian Muslims. It may have been a part of his move to enhance his secular image before the world at large. Though this move was appreciated by a section of Indian Muslims, political reality presents a different picture. Yes, the latter point is being made with reference to assembly elections held recently in Maharashtra and Haryana. In both the states, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to have failed in winning the Muslim vote. This may partly be explained by BJP having given tickets to only few Muslims in both states. Considering that the population of Muslims in Haryana is around six percent and in Maharashtra ten percent, BJP probably chose not to give importance to giving party tickets to more Muslim candidates. The party’s decision to give ticket to only one Muslim candidate in Maharashtra and to two Muslims in Haryana apparently carried only symbolic importance. BJP at least tried to appear secular and friendly towards Muslims by giving party tickets to these Muslim candidates. The fact that voters interpreted this message of BJP, not in keeping with what this party desired, is proved by the failure of its Muslim candidates to win either in Maharashtra or in Haryana assembly elections. This naturally raises the question whether the Indian Muslim still remains suspicious of the BJP’s secular agenda and its friendly political overtures towards them? This implies that lofty development plans announced by Modi bear little significance for the country’s Muslim voter.

Ironically, while a considerable section of voters appears to have been swept by the so-called Modi-wave, Muslims have apparently chosen to turn their back towards the same. This has been proved by the electoral behaviour displayed by Muslims in Maharashtra as well as in Haryana. The most significant development in Maharashtra has been the entry of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) with two members in the new state assembly. The party, based in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), marked its debut in Maharashtra assembly by fielding 24 candidates, of whom two emerged victorious.  

The stunning entry of AIMIM into Maharashtra politics has evoked a mixed reaction. On one hand, against the dismal performance of the state-based Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which has won only one seat, AIMIM’s victory from two has been viewed as impressive. While the future of MNS in Maharashtra politics has been projected as “dead” or “finished,” AIMIM is expected to succeed and enlarge. At the same time, apprehension has also been voiced and concern expressed about a Muslim party’s entry into Maharashtra politics.

The communal and anti-Muslim background of key parties in Maharashtra, particularly Shiv Sena, has not been ignored by voters. Shiv Sena’s failure to emerge as the leading party and the dismal performance of MNS also indicates that a majority of state voters preferred to give greater importance to BJP’s development agenda than be swayed by communal designs of these two parties. Muslim voters of this state have displayed the same attitude towards BJP also. AIMIM’s success also signals that voters, Muslim and non-Muslims, have deliberately decided to give this party a chance in Maharashtra politics. From this angle, AIMIM’s entry in Maharashtra assembly should not be viewed as a polarization of vote-banks along religious or communal lines.

Muslim voters in the state have probably viewed AIMIM as a symbol of asserting their political identity here. Besides, they are against and to a degree also fearful of their identity being subject to negative designs of anti-Muslim extremist and communal political leaders and parties. This apparently decided their political leanings in Maharashtra. Their support for AIMIM is simply symbolic of Indian Muslims being keen to assert their political identity. This point is also supported by the victory of six Muslims from Congress, one from Samajwadi Party and one from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

In Haryana too, BJP failed in attracting Muslim voters. The BJP tried to gain their support by fielding two Muslims in Mewat’s Muslim-dominated constituencies, Ferozpur Jhirka and Punhana. The BJP fielded a non-Muslim candidate from Nuh, the third Muslim-dominated constituency of Mewat. Zakir Hussain of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) won from Nuh, Naseem Ahmed (INLD) from Ferozpur and Rahish Khan, an independent Muslim candidate, from Punhana. It may be noted that these three constituencies have witnessed communal incidents in the past year.

The voters’ electoral attitude in Mewat, where the Muslim population is more than 70%, has been described as their resistance to being swept by Modi-wave. If Muslims here are against being swept by Modi-wave, it is time BJP gave serious thought to this issue.

Despite having failed to attract the Muslim-vote, BJP has registered victory in Maharashtra and Haryana. Assembly elections are due in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Jharkhand and Bihar. It is to be watched whether BJP can win polls, particularly in J&K and Bihar by giving party tickets to very few Muslims, as it has done till now. Will Modi-wave help BJP win Muslim votes or will the Muslim vote be influenced by BJP’s attitude towards Muslims in these states?    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 November 2014 on page no. 11

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