Is there a Muslim Vote?

The Muslim vote in Indian politics, once again faces quite a paradoxical situation. With an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections, a lot of importance is being given to the role that the Muslim vote can play. Till recently, ample noise was being made about the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. Now, the same trend is visible regarding the political situation in Gujarat. It cannot be denied that Indian Muslims have a vital role to play in politics of their country. At the same time, the way they are referred to as vote, primarily along religious lines, is quite debatable for several reasons.

Elementarily speaking, across the country, Muslims of the country don’t display political affiliation for any one party or leader. This naturally implies that their votes are divided along regional and other political as well as ethnic factors as much as are votes of other communities, including the Hindu community. Besides, even in any state, prospects of their votes being guided singularly seem fairly limited.

With their divisions surfacing in different ways throughout the country, it is fairly puzzling as to on what similar parameter does the concept of Indian Muslim vote rest. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, votes of some Muslims may be aligned towards People’s Democratic Party (PDP), others for National Conference (NC), a few for Congress and may be even towards Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, this demands deliberation on what should be the political definition of a Kashmiri Muslim? It cannot be confined to either of a Kashmiri PDP, Kashmiri NC and so forth. Nor can either party be labelled as the exclusive representative of Kashmiri Muslims. The same political reality is visible across the country in varying manner in different states.

The political identity of a Bengali Muslim can be viewed as hardly close to that of a Marathi Muslim or of any other state. The political identity may bear some semblance if both belong to a similar national party. However, in this case, their political identity is marked more strongly by that of their national party. Differences in their political identity may stand out more markedly when they tend to be affiliated with different regional parties in their respective states.

With Indian Muslims divided across the nation in so many parties, it is indeed puzzling as to what does their identity as that of a Muslim vote rest on? Irrespective of whether a Muslim is a member of Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress (TC) or any other party, his identity is linked primarily with the party he belongs to. And none of these parties can be labelled as affiliated to only Muslims.
Besides, though history has been witness to the emergence of several parties in different states, dominated by Muslims, the religious identity does not seem to bind these parties across the nation. Regional roots of PDP and NC are as strong in J&K as that of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam, All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala and so forth. Neither of these parties can be expected to be swayed by a common leader. Nor are their prospects of a candidate of one of these parties contesting elections from outside their state, primarily on account of religious factor.

The prospects of such regional and political divisions being undermined by religious factors can hardly be defined as active at present. This is also supported by the absence of any one party and/or leader to which/whom majority of the Indian Muslims may be assumed to be affiliated with. Though there do exist organisations such as Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, Jamaat-e Islami Hind and so forth, they are not bound by affiliation to a similar party or leader. Besides, off and on, when such groups display their political leanings, these tend to be shaped by secular inclinations of the party they choose to favour and not by its religious label. This also suggests that Muslim individuals and/or groups with religious leanings prefer opting for secular groups, politically and nationally. Shouldn’t this be viewed as reflective of primarily their secular perception?  

The preceding point may also be analysed with respect to the noise being made about possible importance of Muslim vote in the  forthcoming assembly elections. Prospects of any Muslim group/party turning the tide in their favour are as good as non-existent in either of the elections, including that of UP and Gujarat. Statistically speaking, Muslims constitute around 18 percent of population in UP and nine in Gujarat. Can only Muslim votes play a decisive role? They can, if together with other groups, including Dalits, Muslims choose to vote against BJP. But then it would be more appropriate to label this as defeat of communal politics by secular voters choosing to align with each other. After all, political result is likely to be shaped not simply and only by Muslim votes but primarily by secular inclination of like-minded anti-communal forces, that is by secular vote!    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2016 on page no. 11

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